Photo: Stefano Grasso/LGCT
Flying Dutchman Harrie Smolders and his super fast 15-year-old bay mare Regina Z blazed to victory in the Longines Global Champions Tour of Shanghai.
The pace was electric at the climax of the $485,000 Grand Prix as eight riders won through to the jump off in the Chinese leg of the 2015 championship series.
Smolders beat off tough challenges from speed masters Pius Schwizer and Michael Whitaker to emerge victorious scooping $160,000 in prize money and 40 valuable ranking points as winner. It was his first ever Grand Prix win and he said “it’s a very special moment for me. To win at a Global Champions Tour Grand Prix with her is really great.” Great Britain’s Scott Brash remains on top of the overall season ranking stretching his lead to 10 points ahead of Luciana Diniz.
The jump off also included last year’s Shanghai Grand Prix winner Pieter Devos, Olympic bronze medallist Kamal Bahamdan of Saudi Arabia,Taizo Sugitani of Japan and young Jessica Mendoza of Great Britain.
There was a lively social scene at the impressive show ground as VIP guests arrived in chic outfits and hats more reminiscent of Ladies’ Day at Royal Ascot. Thousands of enthusiastic Chinese spectators whooped and gasped as they watched in awe of the world’s top international sport horses.
Earlier in the day champion US rider Kent Farrington and bay mare Waomi won an emphatic victory ahead of the Grand Prix, beating a world class field. It was Kent’s second win in Shanghai after he took the honours in the first 5* on Friday on Blue Angel.
The first round of today’s Grand Prix by course designer Uliano Vezzani saw plenty of confident clear rounds, 13 in total, with John Whitaker and Luca Moneta both missing out with 1 time penalty. Only the three fastest on four faults were able to squeeze into the second round with Daniel Deusser, Ludger Beerbaum, Steve Guerdat and Kent Farrington among the casualties.
The second round in front of packed grandstands raised the stakes and riders including Ben Maher, Sheikh Ali Al Thani and Gregory Wathelet unable to capitalise on their clear round status. Luciana Diniz, back in action on Lennox, had an agonising moment at the second to last fence with a rail down putting her out of the jump off. Pius Schwizer and his mount Caretina de Joter proved an impressive combination with a double clear and young Jessica Mendoza on Spirit also pulled off a double clear.
There were excited cheers as Japanese rider Taizo Sugitani and his bay 16-year-old gelding Avenzio 3 delivered an impressive double clear for Asia – and a few bucks and kicks to the delight of the fans. Pieter Devos, riding Candy, made sure of a place in the jump off setting is sights on a Shanghai double.
Scott Brash remains on great form and pulled off a double clear on Hello M’Lady along with fellow Brit Michael Whitaker on the trusty Viking and Kamal Bahamdan on his Olympic star horse Noblesse des Tess.
The jump off saw bitter disappointment for Pieter Devos who clocked up four faults. But the other seven riders all delivered triple clears. It came down to a ferocious speed battle after Swiss rider Pius Schwizer set a lead time of 34.20. Harrie Smolders was always going to be a threat with the lightning quick Regina Z and he didn’t disappoint stopping the clock at 33.57. Michael Whitaker and Viking were last to go but could not beat Harrie’s time.
With Scott Brash still on top of the ranking, the Tour moves to Hamburg, Germany for the 5th leg of the championship race next weekend.