Photo: GCL / Stefano Grasso
Hamburg Diamonds doubled their lead over arch rivals Valkenswaard United at the Global Champions League in Rome as the 2017 team championship goes down to the wire in November’s final in Qatar.
The formidable duo of Harrie Smolders and Eric Lamaze were the epitome of grace under pressure keeping ice-cool heads in a high-octane GCL in the Italian capital to take an emphatic win and keep their Championship dream alive. The Diamonds are on top of the leaderboard on 295 points with United on 278 points pulling even further ahead of St Tropez Pirates, Miami Glory, Mexico Amigos and London Knights.
Starting off on the back-foot, the Diamonds toppled Valkenswaard United off pole position after Round 1, winning today’s event and consolidating their lead in the overall Championship. Despite a valiant attempt from Marcus Ehning and Alberto Zorzi, United couldn’t match the Diamonds today and had to settle for third place setting up a thrilling finale in Doha. 2nd today went to Miami Glory with masterful clear rounds today from the ever-consistent teammates Scott Brash and Denis Lynch.
Fans basked in glorious sunshine as they settled in to watch an afternoon of top sport. Uliano Vezzani rose to the occasion in his home country, crafting a phenomenally clever course which posed a true test to the top riders in the world. The treble combination - set against the packed grandstand - caused the most problems with plenty caught out on the distance to the vertical in. The combination took no prisoners, with no room for error as riders fought to keep their horses in check while also pushing for enough power at the formidable oxer out. The plank, sandwiched by wings depicting the Colosseum, also caught out a few, as did the intimidating Romulus and Remus wall on the run to home.
First to go, U25 rider Evelina Tovek of Mexico Amigos, put in an impressive round to jump clear on Castello 194, but the heavy score for the team from yesterday meant they would not be on the podium and not able to improve on their 3rd place overall. Young talent would shine today, as 19 year old Emily Moffitt of the London Knights put in a second superb clear for the team with Hilfiger van de Olmenhoeve, but picked up an agonising time fault.
The pressure was on the overall leaders Hamburg Diamonds as Eric Lamaze took centre stage. Only a double clear from the team, and hope of a pole or two for Valkenswaard United, would ensure they could be on the podium and in with a chance of keeping the ranking lead. However, Lamaze kept his cool with Chacco Kid to deliver a stunning round, speedy and clear to keep the team in the running.
The crowd were on the edge of their seats as Alberto Zorzi entered with Fair Light van T Heike for Valkenswaard United. A clear would put further pressure on the shoulders of Diamonds rider Harrie Smolders, but it wasn’t to be as the tricky treble caught the United rider out. Zorzi managed a scary moment at the wall, and flew to the last but clipped the final pole to take the team total to 8.
As the second riders prepared for their rounds, anticipation intensified as there was just one pole separating the top five teams.
Home hero Lorenzo de Luca had been pulled off the bench for the Rome Gladiators, and entered the arena to a huge applause. All around the stadium spectators held their breath as the popular rider took the course in his stride, guiding top stallion Halifax van het Kluizebos beautifully around the challenging round. A gallop to the huge oxer to finish and the passionate home crowd erupted in appreciation as de Luca went clear, ensuring the Rome Gladiators would finish in 12th.
Earlier Scott Brash of Miami Glory pulled out all the stops again with Hello Forever, putting in a foot-perfect round to keep the team in contention for a podium. Ice-cool teammate Denis Lynch put in another solid round with RMF Echo, to keep the team on a score of 9.
Silence fell as Harrie Smolders of the Hamburg Diamonds cantered into the ring with top stallion Don VHP Z. All eyes were on the pair, where only a clear could keep their title hopes alive. The Dutchman delivered with a remarkable round putting the team in the best possible position.
The atmosphere could be cut with a knife as final rider to go Marcus Ehning entered the ring for Valkenswaard United. Only a phenomenally quick clear would keep the win for the team, but he had the hot stallion Comme il Faut to do it. The pair flew around the arena, taking the course beautifully. But it all come down to the final fence, as the culmination of a fantastic competition saw the duo clip the GCL oxer, the crowd groaning in despair for Ehning.
So despite starting off on the back foot, the formidable pairing of Lamaze and Smolders took the win for the Diamonds, keeping hold of the Championship lead and ensuring a nail-biting team showdown on the magnificent stage of Al Shaqab in Qatar in November.
Jan Tops, Co-Founder Global Champions League: "There was a great atmosphere here today and a real Latin flavour and people stayed until after the prize giving. It was a special atmosphere. Yesterday Valkenswaard United started amazing with a double clear, Alberto wasn't too well today and had two down, Marcus one, so they moved to third. Eric and Harrie came back very strong - their professionalism and form was clear, it was great sport.
"It's not over until it's over, but the Diamonds have strengthened their position in the Championship. It will be an exciting finish."
Eric Lamaze, Hamburg Diamonds, 1st place: "I felt I needed a good performance. We felt very good about our chances but we definitely had to come from behind and put some pressure on. My horse is a bit quicker than Harrie’s. The strategy is to try to be clear and quick and it worked out for us today."
Harrie Smolders, Hamburg Diamonds, 1st place: "So far it is going to plan but every round counts so in Doha it can still go wrong. But we have had a very strong season. Our start was not too good but Eric put us back on track with his amazing performance. "
Scott Brash, Miami Glory, 2nd place: "Uliano did a wonderful job in Rome. We both felt that course was really tough and we thought if we can just go clear we had a good chance of being on the podium. We will keep fighting to the end."
Denis Lynch, Miami Glory, 2nd place: "We have a strong [rapport] in the team. I am very lucky I have a great string of horses now, and we all profit from it."
Marcus Ehning, Valkenswaard United, 3rd place: "We were very motivated out there today. We tried to do our best to beat the Diamonds but it was not to be. It was a shame [not to win] but we are on the podium and it will come down to Doha. We have strong riders who want to go to Doha, so we'll see which three will go depending on their horses."