(Photo © Stefano Grasso / LGCT).
French star Pénélope Leprevost thrilled the home crowd with a turbo-charged patriotic victory in the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Cannes tonight.
Pénélope’s army of young fans were ecstatic as she powered across the finish line in an eye-popping 36.86, almost a full second ahead of Swedish champion Rolf-Göran Bengtsson on the extraordinary 16 year old stallion Casall Ask.
It was a night of great stories under the multi-coloured lights of the French Riviera arena. In the overall championship race Luciana Diniz has dramatically extended her lead in the ranking after finishing third on Fit For Fun.
Luciana is now on 160 points, a full 50 points ahead of her nearest rival Pius Schwizer on 110 points and Scott Brash on 105 points. Pius, riding Armani The Gun, retired in the Grand Prix and Scott uncharacteristically finished on 8 faults in the first round on Hello M’Lady. Rolf has jumped up the ranking from 10th to 4th place and is on 99 points putting him in serious contention for the championship.
With speed and precision reaching new heights in the Grand Prix jump-off, the winner walked away with 40 crucial ranking points and 99,000 euros for first place.
The championship circuit next heads to Monte-Carlo, Monaco for Leg 7 as the series powers towards its halfway point.
The exhilarating first round began against a backdrop of all the glamour and expectation Cannes evokes. With packed grandstands full of visitors from around the world – including Wladimir Klitschko, the reigning Heavyweight World Champion – the stage was set for the first man on the course, Jerome Hurel (FRA), and his bay stallion Ohm de Ponthual to step into the spotlight. Much to the delight and cheers of the local fans within the crowd, Jerome set the bar high by riding clear around the 1.60m course; a spectacular start to the Grand Prix.
He was quickly followed by Jessica Springsteen (USA) and her mare Lisona, who rode a beautiful round to take the second clear of the evening. However, despite the initially successful start, many riders were soon caught out by the technical up to height course, and the battle intensified to win the 300,000 euro prize. Jessica was joined by Ben Maher (GBR), Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (SWE) and ranking leader Luciana Diniz (POR). With silence so intense you could hear a pin drop, Kevin Staut (FRA) took centre stage with his bay mare Elky van het Indihof. As the grandstands held their breath, Kevin rode a powerfully quick round to come home clear and in pole position. With Pénélope Leprevost (FRA) and Ratina d’la Rousserie also riding clear, there would be three French riders competing in second round of the first of their home Grand Prix this season.
The second round saw further intense battle as the top 18 riders battled for a place in the jump-off. Despite their strong start the top three, Kevin Staut (FRA), Jerome Hurel (FRA) and Emanuele Gaudiano (ITA) were unable to do the double and the challenging but fair 1.60m course saw just six combinations achieve a clear round, four of whom would earn their position in the jump-off.
It was standing room only as first to go Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) and his bay mare VDL Groep Arera C, completed the round clear once more in 39.97s. Next up was last year’s second place position, Luciana Diniz (POR) with her chestnut mare Fit For Fun 13. She raised the bar further by going clear a full two seconds faster and laid down the gauntlet for the final two combinations. Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (SWE) was third to go and was able to tighten the turns further still, with the sixteen year old Casall Ask shaving tenths of a second off Luciana’s time to take the top spot. Finally, home favourite Pénélope Leprevost (FRA) entered the ring to the cheer of the crowd, with her ten year old bay mare Ratina d’la Rousserie. With baited breath the crowd watched as Pénélope rode a phenomenal clear round and came home in 36.86, almost a full second quicker than her nearest rival.
This is the second Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix Pénélope Leprevost has won in her career, her first being in Vienna in 2012. She claims the full 40 points from the sixth leg of the Tour, and moves up to twenty-sixth in the rankings. Luciana Diniz maintains her lead on the overall championship ranking board, fifty points clear of second place man Pius Schwizer (SUI), with Scott Brash (GBR) just five points behind making the top three.
Pénélope Leprevost, Longines Global Champions Tour of Cannes Grand Prix 1st place: “Ratina is a 10 year-old, freshly arrived at the top level. It’s her fourth Grand Prix, and she went double clear last week in Saint Tropez. She was not supposed to come to the Longines Global Champions Tour of Cannes but we had to change our plans and I decided to bring her with me here. It would have been a shame not to take her! It’s the first time I tried to be really quick with Ratina. She is quite hot so I usually try to calm things down with her and ride her quietly, but this has broken all that careful work!”
Rolf-Goran Bengtsson, Longines Global Champions Tour of Cannes Grand Prix 2nd place: “Going to the last fence I had to wait a little bit but still I’m super happy with my 2nd place today here. Pénélope deserved to win today – it was a very good jump-off as everybody just got faster and faster. Casall has been showing a very consistent level in this Longines Global Champions Tour and I’m very satisfied having a horse like him.”
Luciana Diniz, Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Cannes 3rd place and Longines Global Champions Tour ranking leader: “I am very happy to be here, I thank you and congratulations to all the organisers and to Jan once more for this great Longines Global Champions Tour. As I’ve said, I’m very happy, I came here and I saw all these pictures in the whole city of me and I was like oh my gosh, is that pressure or is that good? So I decided to say this is great, I feel great, and I hope I can share this message with everyone to ride with fun and be happy.”
Jan Tops, President and Founder of the Longines Global Champions Tour: “You sometimes think things can’t go better but then you see this jump-off, it’s amazing to have everyone going better and better. If you love the sport then you want to see it like this. And of course, our course builder, we must not forget Uliano [Vezzani], who is a genius all the time, I always say he knows exactly how to get the right number and he did it again. I and also riders and owners, we appreciate this very much. These horses are very rare and to keep jumping these big tracks you need a really good course builder and he makes sure that the best one wins and he doesn’t over jump them. Also the way he makes the combinations and the timings I think it’s special, it’s a real feeling and I think he needs big recognition for that.
“Of course I want to thank my partner Francois [Bourey], for the 10th year, who had the trust to start from the beginning for this adventure. We changed the whole sport from the good to the better and he was the big one who believed from the beginning and I want to thank him again for everything.
Sadri Fegaier, Haras des Grillons: “The Longines Global Champions Tour of Cannes is a wonderful show, I’m very proud that Haras des Grillons is able to partner with this unique and beautiful event. Seeing a French rider winning is absolutely amazing.”
Source: Longines Global Champions Tour