Photo: GCL / Stefano Grasso
The Berlin Lions roared to pole in a spectacular inaugural Global Champions League of London at the stunning new venue of Royal Hospital Chelsea.
The Lions were the only team in the class who managed to secure a double clear in the first round on Friday at the unique and historic new destination for show jumping on the Championship circuit. It puts them in pole for the first time in the competition and in prime position to convert their score into a podium result in tomorrow's final.
There was an excited buzz about the new stage for the series in the British capital as spectators and international guests caught their first glimpse of the Sir Christopher Wren-designed building and spotted the much-loved Chelsea Pensioners enjoying the sport. With over 200 horses on the South Grounds of the impressive site, Chelsea had never seen a sports event like it before. Ben Maher of the home city team, the London Knights said: "I don't think it gets much better than this, it's really the centre of London - very typically English and I'm sure everyone's going to be enjoying it this weekend."
With Saturday poised for a sell out crowd, today's Global Champions League first round saw the world's top riders battling for team glory. Max Kühner on grey stallion Chardonnay 79 managed a beautiful clear well within time, finishing on 77.6s. His teammate Anna Kellnerova had the crowd cheering when she made it a clean team score, incidentally with the exact same finish time. It puts them into the lead heading into day two on Saturday.
“It’s a good feeling, but it is tight at the top and we have everything to ride for tomorrow. We want to bring our best horses and these are the pair in charge,” said Kühner.
Kellnerova agreed, “We came here with a goal to be as good as possible.”
The first round of the GCL of London kicked off in style as the 18 teams took centre stage against the backdrop of the historic and much loved Royal Hospital Chelsea. Fans were treated to spectacular show jumping, as the teams fought to put themselves in the top spot ahead of tomorrow’s GCL of London final, where valuable ranking points would be up for grabs.
Guests and VIPs watched from beautiful surroundings, model and Help for Heroes Ambassador Jodie Kidd said: “It is absolutely stunning to see show jumping in the city like this – it’s gorgeous. My dad was a show jumper and I wanted to follow in his footsteps. I started modelling to pay for a bigger horse box – the rest is history, but I could have been here! It was such a popular sport with tens of millions of fans worldwide; thanks to this Global Tour interest is surging and it is bringing show jumping back to the cities so people can see it live. It’s very exciting, it’s great to be here and I am so pleased we have nice weather!”
She was joined in the GCL TV live studio by Olympic double gold medallist track cyclist Victoria Pendleton who said: “To be able to see the best horses in the world is an incredible opportunity, so I am happy I could come along. I really do enjoy any sporting challenge, but even more so when horses are involved. I’m retraining one of my race horses, so I had a jumping lesson a couple of days ago but I feel quite embarrassed looking at the height I was jumping compared to this! Making half a tonne of horse look as light as air is incredible to watch. I can’t wait to watch it all – having ridden horses I can appreciate what a skill it is!”
It was a strong second from the St Tropez Pirates - Simon Delestre put in a blistering round but took early penalties through the triple combination. However, teammate Jérôme Guery had what was needed to manage a clear with Garfield de Tiji Des Templiers stopping the clock at 78.88s, and shooting the team up the scoreboard to help keep them in with a chance for the win tomorrow.
There was a top three placing for ranking leaders, Hamburg Diamonds on day one. Harrie Smolders secured a faultless clear well within the reviewed time allowance (extended to 80s from 78s to start with) with Emerald N.O.P. Whilst U25 Diamond Jos Verlooy was fast out of the starting gate, he finished on four faults to help put the team in third today.
It was a technical, London-inspired course in one of the biggest arenas of the circuit. Nearly one and a half thousand tonnes of sand has been brought into the grounds of the 325 year old Royal Hospital Chelsea to create it, and spectators were treated to some beautiful fences influenced by the Underground logo, Big Ben and red phone boxes. Whilst there was plenty of space between the early fences to make up some ground and time, there were several combinations which required quick wit and planning. A big triple combination down the longside of the arena in particular caused some issues, as well as a couple of big oxers requiring plenty of scope.
Shanghai Swans’ Daniel Deusser brought the first of the eleven clear rounds of the competition (having a single time penalty fault rescinded after tie allowance review). However, his team-mate Roger Yves Bost knocked a pole and picked up a time-fault with chestnut stallion Sunshine du Phare. It meant they finished the class in ninth. Darragh Kenny managed a fast clear on his ten year old gelding Team de Coquerie for Paris Panthers, followed by the speedy combination of Nayel Nassar and Lordan who knocked a pole finishing on four faults. They closed day one in fourth, less than a second behind Hamburg Diamonds.
It was a smooth start for the Vienna Eagles, with Niels Bruynseels and Gancia Muze soaring round the course. Team mate Emanuel Andrade ended on four faults with Reus de la Nutria – they go into round two in fifth.
The overall rankings could be primed for a shake up, after Valkenswaard United finished in 7th today. Team anchor Alberto Zorzi looked very comfortable throughout his round, but was not able to make it thirteen clears from nineteen rounds picking up a single time fault with Cornetto K. They finished in seventh after Switzerland’s Janika Sprunger collected four faults with Aris CMS.
London Knights got a rousing welcome from a supportive home crowd, but World No 1 Kent Farrington finished on nine penalties with grey gelding Dublin, and Ben Maher and Don Vito ended with a frustrating four faults meaning the team would finish the day in 13th.
There were a number of high scores at the start of the competition on Friday afternoon - Eric van der Vleuten picked up a couple of early faults for Madrid in Motion, followed by Chantilly Pegasus’ Lauren Hough who had a challenging round picking up several penalties after her bay Waterford had a little look at the triple combination and then nudged a couple of poles.
As the League battle continues, the importance of strategy and team tactics remains paramount. With five teams heading into day two on four penalty points, and a further three with five – there is still all to ride for, with the result resting on a knife-edge. All eyes will now be on the teams to see who will be making tactical changes between the two rounds, and which players will come off the bench for the all important final.