Photo: GCL / Stefano Grasso
The battle for the Global Champions League title balances on a knife-edge this evening after the Hamburg Diamonds caused major upset for current leaders Valkenswaard United on their home turf.
With just three points separating the top two teams, the formidable duo of Harrie Smolders and Jos Verlooy pulled the only double clear of the evening out of the bag for the Diamonds, putting them in pole position and the best possible place for a strong result in tomorrow’s final. Home favourites Valkenswaard United fielded the impressive combination of Alberto Zorzi and Marcus Ehning, but a costly four faults dropped the blue and orange team to fourth, but still with a chance at keeping their overall lead.
A delighted Jos Verlooy of the Hamburg Diamonds said; "I’m very happy with my horse, he made my job very easy - he’s green but he rode like he’s been doing this for years. I’m delighted with the result.” His teammate Harrie Smolders agreed but was cautious about their result, knowing how quickly the order can change. "We’re only halfway - we’re focused on tomorrow and ourselves and we’ll see where we end up.”
But the team would keep their strategy close to their chest, with Jos revealing; "We have a team meeting after the class, so we’ll see what we decide [who rides and which horses will take part in the GCL Valkenswaard final.]"
Uliano Vezzani set a flowing course for the first Global Champions League, making full use of the expansive sand arena. With colourful fences featuring windmills, tulips and colourful designs showcasing the spectacular venue, the teams took to the huge sand arena as the day turned to dusk. Fences fell all over the arena, the treble combination taking out a few with a short distance to the middle element and the penultimate GCL oxer falling as riders decided whether to take four or five strides to the skinny bicycle vertical to finish.
Earlier in the day Jessica Springsteen stormed to a spectacular opening CSI5* win, with parents Bruce and Patti Springsteen watching on as Jessica returned to the ring for the Shanghai Swans and the first round of GCL Valkenswaard.
First to go Jos Verlooy of the Hamburg Diamonds had everything to do, with the unenviable task of pioneering the way for the field yet to come. Despite the pressure on the U25 rider’s shoulders, Verlooy pulled a phenomenal clear out of the bag with his young chestnut horse Igor, flying clear and passing the baton back to teammate Harrie Smolders. But the home hero showcased a masterclass of a round, with new stallion Capital Colnardo putting in a foot-perfect clear and keeping the Diamonds in with a chance of regaining the title.
With the Championship race on a knife-edge, Tops International Arena based rider Alberto Zorzi of Valkenswaard United knew he would need to go clear to match Verlooy’s result. The pressure was on overall leaders Valkenswaard United, but Zorzi kept it clean with Fair Light van T Heike - visibly relieved as the spotlight turned to teammate Marcus Ehning.
Shock came after Ludger Beerbaum and his top stallion Chaman of the Cannes Stars were eliminated at the water tray, the experienced duo unusually caught out after Chaman took exception to the fence. This meant the team would be out of the running, despite teammate Marco Kutscher’s brave clear with Clenur.
There was also disappointment for the Rome Gladiators after Limestone Grey kicked out one of the poles in the Horseware oxer with Lorenzo de Luca, before picking up more faults after they took out the middle of the treble combination. Big scores came all across the field as poles rolled left, right and centre, with Chantilly Pegasus, Paris Panthers, Moscow Bears and Vienna Eagles dropping down the order. The St Tropez Pirates came adrift after best friends and teammates Simon Delestre and Jerome Guery clocked up 12 faults, keeping them out of the sharp end of the grid.
In-form Scott Brash lead the way for Miami Glory but two poles put the team on 8 faults. U25 rider Paris Sellon put in a stunning round with Cassandra, with the duo looking strong right up to the final fence where the grey mare dropped a toe to add another four faults to their tally.
There were plenty of strong rounds, with Cascais Charms’ Carlos Lopez with Cuplandra, Max Kühner with Ascalan of the Berlin Lions, Maikel van der Vleuten with VDL Groep Quatro of Madrid In Motion, Nayel Nassar of the Paris Panthers with Lordan all jumping clear. Gregory Wathelet of the Vienna Eagles went clear with Eldorado van het Vijverhof, but picked up a time fault to add to their tally, as did Mexico Amigos’ Christian Ahlmann with top stallion Taloubet Z and Anna Kellnerova with Giljandro van den Bosrand of the Berlin Lions.
All eyes turned to Marcus Ehning of Valkenswaard United as he cantered into the ring with Gin Chin van het Lindenhof. The pressure was on the experienced German’s riders shoulders but the square oxer, with a fill of box hedges, would prove their downfall. With one eye on the oxer, they clipped a pole, dropping them down to four faults and ensuring the battle would commence tomorrow.
So it would be the Diamonds who shoot to pole once again, with the only clean score from the GCL today. Berlin Lions have once again shot up the order after Max Kuhner and Anna Kellnerova finished on a score of 1 time fault to take second, and the talented team of Carlos Lopez and Andreas Kreuzer for the Cascais Charms were the fastest of the four faulters to finish in third.
The action kicks off at 14:30 local time, with all the action broadcast live via GCL TV and on the Global Champions League Facebook page. For the full results, please click here.