(Photo: Stefano Grasso/LGCT)
By Global Champions Tour
Fan-favourite Rolf-Goran Bengtsson (SWE) and Casall ASK became the celebrated winners of the Longines Global Champions Tour of Chantilly Grand Prix this afternoon in front of a raucous French crowd who seemed to have adopted the pair as their own. The Silver medal went to another hugely popular Swede, Henrik von Eckermann with Cantinero, while Bronze went to Canadian star Eric Lamaze with his relatively new ride Fine Lady 5. The result saw Edwina Tops-Alexander’s (AUS) Championship lead reduced to just seven points from Bengtsson in No2 spot, in a reflection of their epic 2012 battle which saw Tops-Alexander eventually prevail.
In front of packed stands, the first round of the Grand Prix saw some masterful clears from some of the top contenders for the Championship crown. Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) jumped a confident clean round with her ever-reliable Ego van Orti, which kept her on top of the Championship race, but she had four faults in the second round to leave her 12th overall in the class. No3 in the Championship, Bassem Hassan Mohammed (QAT) also jumped clear in the first round and but lowered a rail in round two – the result means that the top three in the Championship have moved clear of their pursuers by 24 points.
Of the 15 clears, five French riders made it through to the second round – Patrice Delaveau, Marie Hecart, Michel Hecart, Pénélope Leprevost and Timothee Anciaume – but all picked up four faults to the corwd’s dismay. Athina Onassis de Miranda (GRE) and AD Camille Z were the first combination to jump clear in the tough second round – they finished on just two time faults from their first round, which landed them a 5th place overall and gave Onassis one of the best results of her career so far. A very happy Jessica Springsteen (USA) and Vindicat W also finished well, with a clear and four faults to collect 8th place.
But it was the experienced crew who showed what they were made of to advance to the third and final round against the clock. Ludger Beerbaum (GER), Henrik von Eckermann, Rolf-Goran Bentsson and Eric Lamaze came back for the last test of power and skill set by Uliano Vezzani. The first half of the course was a twisty, turning cluster of fences followed by a long gallop to the last which favoured the bigger striding horses. Beerbaum was first to go and looked to be on to a winning round when Chaman slipped on a tight turn to stop the clock at 42.69s.
Von Eckermann was second go and was understandably cautious on the turn where his mentor had slipped, which cost him time, but he took the lead in a time of 40.85s. Bengtsson was third to go with his incredible stallion, who has not looked like he would touch a pole all season, and pulled off the round his legions of fans were hoping to see to cruise into first place in 40.31s. Eric Lamaze had pole position as last to go, but he was unable to catch the time with his smaller mare and lost out on the long gallop to the last to take third in a time of 41.08s.
Next week the Championship moves to the spiritual home of the Tour – Valkenswaard – where the ranking could once again see a shake up. With just 20 points separating Tops-Alexander, Bengtsson and Mohammed it could not be closer at the top of the leaderboard. Von Eckermann and Beerbaum have also moved up well into the Top Ten putting them within striking distance of the leaders. Watch the Longines Global Champions Tour of Valkenswaard Grand Prix next Saturday afternoon at 2.30pm CEST live on GCT TV, Equidia Life, ClassHorseTV, beIN Sports, Horse&Country TV and on Eurosport from 6.30pm CEST.