(Photo: Stefano Grasso/LGCT)
By Global Champions Tour
The Longines Global Champions Tour of Valkenswaard Grand Prix presented by Qatar was won by a jubliant Christian Ahlmann (GER) and Codex One who is returning to competition in fantastic fresh form and off the back of their recent Aachen Grand Prix win. Second went to Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) and Gotha FRH, the Swede’s second LGCT Silver medal in a week, and 3rd went to Eckermann’s mentor Ludger Beerbaum (GER) and Chiara 222. It was a fine day for Sweden as Rolf-Göran Bengtsson also rose to the top of the Championship leaderboard to take over from long-term No1 Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS).
VIPs and visitors crowded around the competition arena to catch a glimpse of the world-class show jumping on offer today. The first round Grand Prix course was a true test for the experienced horsemen and women who took the the stunning grass arena for the 10th round of the 2014 Championship. Course designer Uliano Vezzano provided a smart challenge with his array of beautifully designed fences.
Of the 46 starters, 13 clears progressed into the the final top 18 to come back for round two. Key points around the course were the difficult treble combination towards the end, which caught a number of top names, including Championship leader Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) and Luciana Diniz (POR). But it was the tall, lone uprights, sitting unobtrusively at points around the arena that caught out many riders – Gerco Schroder (NED), Emanuele Gaudiano (ITA) and Kent Farrington (USA) all collected four faults at these deceptively tricky fences.
On fantastic form, last weekend’s Longines Global Champions Tour of Chantilly Grand Prix winner Rolf-Göran Bengtsson’s his new mount Unita ASK performed fantastically well in her first ever Longines GCT Grand Prix with a clear and four faults to finish 10th. The Swede pointed to his horse and smiled as he left the arena to the applause from the crowd. Bengtsson is having a stellar season with three podium finishes to date – two Silver medals and a Gold – all with his great stallion Casall ASK. With Casall resting in preparation for WEG, the Swede brought his new less experienced horse to Valkenswaard, but she has taken it all in her stride.
The second round course required care and precision with its twisting lines and jagged related distances, but despite its seeming difficulty the star riders were on top form with eight completing a double clear to progress to the jump-off, including Rodrigo Pessoa (BRA), Tiffany Foster (CAN), Sheikh Ali Al Thani (QAT) and Oleksandr Onyshchenko (UKR). Onyshchenko was first to go in the final round and erred on the side of caution, aiming for a clean round but unfortunately he picked up two time faults and lowered a rail. Al Thani rode a great round, but his brave gallop to the last was a little too strong and Vienna Olympic had it down behind.
Christian Ahlmann was the first clear round in a swift time of 41.68s. Codex One bounced around the arena looking like he would never touch a pole, putting the pressure on the big names to follow. Beerbaum and Chiara were next, and tried their best to catch the leading time stopping the clock at 42.50s. Rodrigo Pessoa and Status, runners-up in the Grand Prix of Cascais, Estoril, once again rode a deceptively quick round but their daring race to the last cost them the final fence dropping them to 4th. Henrik von Eckermann had pole position as last to go, so he knew what was needed, but his turn to No3 meant he had to pull for an extra stride which cost him the win – he clocked in at 41.91s to take Silver.
Next up is Round 11 hosted by London. From the 14-16 August the eyes of the show jumping world will be upon the new historic venue Horse Guards Parade Ground where the Top 30 riders in the world will do battle for some of the biggest prizze funds in the sport. With Bengtsson lying 20 points ahead of his nearest rival it will take a top performance to topple him – can 2013 Champions and World No1 Scott Brash continue his great run of form and go on to challenge the Swede? Or will last year’s winner Ben Maher retain his title? Only time will tell.