(Photo: Stefano Grasso/LGCT)
By Global Champions Tour
It was a battle of the Legends with a capital ‘L’ in Lausanne this evening when Germany’s Ludger Beerbaum and Chaman took on Britain’s John Whitaker and Argento in front of a hugely excited and supportive Suisse crowd, with the four-time Olympic Gold medallist Beerbaum coming out on top by just 0.81s. Third place went to the relative newcommer on the Longines GCT Argentina’s José Maria Larocca with GDE Matrix, who finished one of just two other treble clears 0.84s ahead of 4th placed Gerco Schröder (NED) and Cognac Champblanc who jumped his socks off. With his win tonight, Beerbaum has stormed up the Championship ranking from 4th to 1st taking a narrow lead of 15 points.
The first round of Luc Musette’s Grand Prix course was a twisting, turning gauntlet with a number of bogey fences. Ranking leader Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (SWE) with his relatively inexperienced Clarimo ASK lowered two fences in the first round and did not make the top 18 cut for the second round, opening up his Championship No1 spot to attack from those below him. Hot favourite, World No1 Scott Brash with Hello Annie, who has won an incredible three rounds this season with Hello Sanctos, retired halfway round after collecting eight faults early on.
After coming so close to adding another medal to his tally at last week’s World Championship, Ludger Beerbaum (GER) came back with a bang in Lausanne this evening making the testing first round course look simple where others had struggled. Former two-time Longines GCT Champ Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) and Old Chap Tame also produced a careful clear round to put pressure on the riders ranked above and below her on the Championship table. Qatar’s Bassem Hassan Mohammed, back with his Monaco Grand Prix-winning star mare Victoria, also finished on a zero score.
The second round was full of tall airy uprights and wide square oxers which took a lot of jumping. First to go was Jane Richard Philips (SUI) carrying four faults from the first round, who jumped a stylish clear and made the task look achievable. But it wasn’t until nine riders later when Gerco Schröder with Cognac Champblanc entered the arena that another clear made it onto the score sheet. Beerbaum followed immediately after with another double clear. But it was a double clear from Britain’s John Whitaker with Argento that really raised the roof.
Tops-Alexander dropped out of the running in the second round with an uncharacteristic 14 faults as did Mohammed with 12 faults. But it was a pair of less familiar faces on the Tour, José Maria Larocca and Pilar Lucrecia Cordon (ESP) with Nuage Bleu, second-to-last and last to go, who really rose to the occasion by going on to jump a double clear to join this world-class trio in one of the most highly anticipated jump-offs of the season.
The jump-off course itself offered some daring turn-back options and Gerco Schroder was the pathfinder with his big-jumping grey, riding a careful but neat round and setting a time of 40s dead. Beerbaum was next to go and rode what he described as a ‘close to perfect round’ to stop the clock at 37.50s. The crowd cheered and a rare smile crept across the German’s face as he left the arena patting his horse. Camera’s followed Ludger into the warm-up arena where he watched Whitaker’s round anxiously.
John Whitaker entered to a warm and welcoming applause, and managed to make up time with his stallion’s quick movement across the ground as he tried to claw back some of the seconds saved by Ludger’s smooth, big striding Chaman. Argento raced through the finish in 38.31s jumping confidently around a course john described as ‘a bit big for me’. The relief on Ludger’s face was clear as he watch a long-time rival settle for 2nd place.
Larocca was last to go and with pole position he knew what he had to do, but the experienced legends were deceptively quick and he could only finished in 39.16s. It was an emotional Grand Prix for many this evening, seeing Ludger Beerbaum and John Whitaker go up against each other once again, and for John to take the first LGCT podium finish of his long and illustrious career was a special moment for many who watched it.
Next stop is Vienna next weekend where eight of the Top Ten riders in the world will be fighting for supremacy at this year’s venue Magna Racino, including Marcus Ehning (GER), Gregory Wathelet (BEL), Kevin Staut (FRA), Pénélope Leprevost (FRA) and Ben Maher (GBR). Can Beerbaum hold onto his narrow lead faced with this onslaught on world-class talent? If anyone can, it’s him.