Photo: GCL / Stefano Grasso
A high drama first round of the Global Champions League of Rome has thrown the Championship title wide open, after Valkenswaard United secured pole position with the only team double clear of the day.
All season long, the battle between Hamburg Diamonds and Valkenswaard United has taken extraordinary twists, with today’s result no exception in the high-stakes race to the finish. While Hamburg Diamonds sit in the overall lead 11 points ahead of the United team, a shock result from experienced duo Harrie Smolders and Eric Lamaze saw the team pick up 8 faults, putting them in 6th in today’s result.
Smart strategy and team tactics saw Valkenswaard United’s formidable duo of Marcus Ehning and Alberto Zorzi re-unite. The pair pulled out all the stops, with masterful clear rounds propelling them to the sharp end of the grid and putting them in the best possible position to leapfrog their closest rivals.
Fans basked in glorious sunshine at the magnificent Stadio dei Marmi, as the 14th leg of the Championship race kicked off. Broadcast on TV and on Facebook Live via the GCL’s official page, all eyes would be on the 18 teams to see who could finish in pole position ahead of tomorrow’s second round.
The home city team Rome Gladiators drew the proverbial short straw as first to go in the competition, however Brazilian star Marlon Zanotelli, rose to the occasion by putting in a brilliant pioneering round with Celena VDL. Those early to go looked strong, lulling the crowd into a false sense of ease after Julien Epaillard of St Tropez Pirates with Usual Suspect d’Auge, Emily Moffitt of London Knights with Hilfiger van de Olmenhoeve and Max Kühner of Berlin Lions with Chardonnay 79 all jumped clear.
But it was anything but simple as Uliano Vezzani had put together an artfully designed course, testing the riders throughout. A tricky distance down the long side of the VIP hospitality caught out many of the riders, with the imposing fences coming up fast for the horses.
The stadium erupted in cheers after local star Alberto Zorzi proved why he is such a consistent Valkenswaard United anchor, after the Italian rider put in a foot-perfect clear with Fair Light van T Heike. The battle for the Championship soon reached a new level of intensity after high drama saw leaders Hamburg Diamonds collect four faults as Harrie Smolders and Don VHP Z rolled the pole on the oxer placed towards the in-gate.
Further shock came after Rome Gladiators teammate Abdel Saïd and S I E C Captain Future Z picked up an unusual 17 faults, pushing them way down the order despite Zanotelli’s earlier clear. The test was tough for the best of the best, with big names such as Roger-Yves Bost of the Shanghai Swans, Ludger Beerbaum of the Cannes Stars and Christian Ahlmann of the Mexico Amigos all collecting multiple faults for their team.
Edwina Tops-Alexander made her debut appearance for the Moscow Bears, putting in a strong round, however collective faults for the team meant they would also be out of contention.
The pressure was back on the shoulders of Valkenswaard United’s Marcus Ehning as he entered the arena with Comme Il Faut. A clear would put the team ahead of fierce rivals Hamburg Diamonds, and in a strong position to take back the overall lead this weekend.
The masterful Ehning pulled together a brilliant round, managing the hot stallion carefully to let him run and jump at his very best. Spectators held their breath until the final fence, before the pair crossed the finish to bring home the first team score of zero - the only team to do so today.
Second team rider Eric Lamaze took up the reins for Hamburg Diamonds, knowing he would need to go clear to keep their Championship lead alive and be in with a chance of keeping rivals Valkenswaard United off the top spot. But the pair were unlucky after Chacco Kid left his near fore down at the liverpool, adding another four faults to the team score to finish on 8.
So it would be Valkenswaard United who take the upper hand as the Championship looks to tomorrow’s second round. Can the blue and orange team regain the lead, will Hamburg Diamonds make a strategic decision to swap in British legend John Whitaker, and which horses are in their best form for the Rome final where every point counts?
Tune in at 12:30 local time Saturday 23rd September to find out.
For the full results, please click here.