Photo: LGCT / Stefano Grasso
It was a scorching afternoon of top sport and entertainment in the sultry setting of Cascais, with the overall LGCT Rankings taking a dramatic turn and becoming even more exciting as Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) rocketed to the top of the leaderboard. Piergiorgio Bucci (ITA) and Casallo Z stole the show, taking a stunning win at the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Cascais, with Edwina Tops-Alexander finishing second with Lintea Tequila and Ireland’s Bertram Allen (IRL) in third with his 9 year old stallion Hector van d’Abdijhoeve.
Edwina’s result has shot the two-time LGCT Champion of Champions to the top of the rankings, where she now sits on 234 points overall. Former leader Christian Ahlmann (GER) is a nail-biting two points away, and poised to regain the lead as the battle continues this season. Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (SWE) has slipped to third, but still on 200 points, and Bertram’s result in Cascais has pushed him back up the order to fourth, and just eleven points behind the top three.
The stunning three day event in Cascais, Portugal, was met with typically sunny skies with the Grand Prix kicking off as the sun started its descent across the picture perfect grass arena. A favourite with all the world-class riders, all focus was on the 1.60m €300,000 Grand Prix.
The large flowing course threw up a few questions for the riders, with fore-thought needed for a few of the related distances, and plenty of scope required as the fences grew bigger towards the second half of the round. Frank Rothenberger utilised the full length and breadth of the stunning grass arena, allowing the horses to open up the pace, while delicate poles and full height verticals demanded accuracy and power. A double of liverpools gave the horses something to think about, and a few of the top riders fell short of the final combination, either from the pace being too fast or miscalculating the long distance in-between.
David Will (GER) with the spirited chestnut Mic Mac du Tillard were once again the leaders into round two, after the pair blew away the rest of the field to clear the course in 79.59s. The small but mighty 16 year old mare stormed to the top of the time sheets early on in round one, with David as the fourth starter to go and setting an unbeatable time for the remaining 35 starters. The closest to their pace was Belgium’s young talent Olivier Philippaerts (BEL) and H&M Legend of Love who delivered a classy round with the huge striding grey mare, crossing the line in 80.46s. LGCT Ranking Leader Christian Ahlmann (GER) repeated his masterful round from yesterday’s win with Caribis Z, earning himself a place in the next part of the Grand Prix and keeping his overall ranking lead alive.
A total of 13 riders jumped clear, with Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) and Lintea Tequila, Nicola Philippaerts (BEL) with H&M Harley vd Bisschop, Andreas Kreuzer (GER) with Quick Jumper, Marco Kutscher (GER) with S I E C Carsten, Lauren Hough (USA) with Cornet, Piergiorgio Bucci (ITA) with Casallo Z, Faleh Suwead Al Ajami (QAT) with Come Soon, Abdullah Al Sharbatly (KSA) with Tobalio and Michael Whitaker (GBR) with Cassionato all through. Joining them would be Julien Epaillard (FRA) with Quatrin de la Roque LM, Lisa Nooren (NED) with VDL Groep Sabech d’Ha, Kevin Staut (FRA) with Aran and finally Ludger Beerbaum (GER) with Chaman, all on four faults overall.
The second round course was another big test, with riders jumping the Longines combination the other way this time, and a couple of delicate full height verticals catching out some of the top combinations, including high hopefuls Lauren Hough (USA) with Cornet 39, and Andreas Kreuzer (GER) with Quick Jumper.
First to go clear was Michael Whitaker (GBR) with his Olympic contender Cassionato, with the pair setting the pace at 80.26s. LGCT Monaco Silver medallist Piergiorgio Bucci (ITA) and Casallo Z quickly joined him, ensuring that there would be a jump off for the Grand Prix of Cascais. As the shadows lengthened Christian Ahlmann (GER) and Caribis Z caught an unlucky pole early at the first fence, and then another on the final run, eliminating them from the jump-off and putting Christian’s ranking lead in danger.
Knowing she needed to earn a place in the jump-off to be in with a chance of taking over the lead, Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) put in a flawless round with Lintea Tequila to keep her dream alive. Joining her would be Marco Kutscher (GER), Bertram Allen (IRL), Abdullah Al Sharbatly (KSA) and Olivier Philippaerts (BEL), making it a seven rider jump-off.
The initial two riders, Michael Whitaker (GBR) and Abdullah Al Sharbatly (KSA) each had a pole down. First to go clear was Piergiorgio Bucci (ITA) and Casallo Z, with the pair setting the time at 49.07s. Marco Kutscher and the huge striding S I E C Carsten also rolled an unlucky pole, dropping him down the order. Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) was next to enter the ring, with the focus on beating Piergiorgio’s clear and impressive time. The pair flew around the arena, with the feisty Lintea Tequila charging to the fences. They were quick, but not quick enough, crossing the line in 50.08s, finishing in second overall.
Bertram Allen (IRL) and the expressive Hector van d’Abdijhoeve were next to take centre stage, with the stunning grey kicking and bucking his way around the course, however they were just shy of Edwina’s time 50.14s taking the bronze medal. So top honours went to Piergiorgio and his horse Casello Z, son of Casall ASK, taking their first LGCT Grand Prix win.
The Tour now looks to Valkenswaard in August, it’s spiritual home, and round 12 for what’s turning into a sensational 2016 season of show jumping.
Jan Tops, Founder & President Longines Global Champions Tour: “It’s very special here. It feels like home, the people are very welcoming and the circumstances are fantastic. I always say the horses jump fantastic here, on this grass. It’s important for us as riders and owners that our horses last a long time, and ground like this is perfect and fantastic for the horses. The ranking is very, very close. Edwina is now up there, she has one less score, and Rolf is close too. Everything is open – Edwina took the lead which is a comfortable position but the others are close and there are more rounds to come.”
Duarte Nobre Guedes, President CSI Cascais: “I have a big smile on my face. Our aim is always perfection, which is not always easy to achieve. This year we’ve put a lot into the jumps and the grass – many little things that make a difference – and I’m very happy about it.”
Piergiorgio Bucci, LGCT Cascais Gold Medallist: “I really like the feeling [to be on the podium] as I was two weeks ago in Monte Carlo, and now I’m back with Casello again. The Casall horses are amazing, Casall himself is a story – he won an unbelievable jump-off last week in Paris and I must say his sons have many great qualities. It takes time but they give you everything, the quality is amazing. This is my first CSI5* win – I was very close a few times, and starting to think it might not happen until now. It was a great jump off and a great win today.”
Edwina Tops-Alexander, LGCT Cascais Silver Medallist and Ranking leader: “Firstly I’d like to thank Duarte, the organisers and sponsors of the show. It’s always a pleasure for the riders to come here, the ground is unbelievable – the horses are on springs! I’m really happy to see that I’m number one for the moment, it’s getting shuffled up a lot. There’s still a long way to go; Christian’s not far behind me, it’s very, very close. But I’m just going to keep going and doing what I do – my horses are in great shape. Lintea felt amazing, she was floating on this ground – thanks to Frank Rothenberger who did a great job today, it was not so easy!”
Bertram Allen, LGCT Cascais Bronze Medallist: “Hector jumped fantastic – he was a little tricky but I’m pleased with the podium performance. He’s only nine and only done a handful of these Grands Prix – he’s been very good most of the time but sometimes he gets over-excited and kicks out, so you have to adapt all the time. But it’s the only thing in a very fast round, which for a nine year old is great and given time I can sort that out.”