(Photo: Stefano Grasso/LGCT).
By Longines Global Champions Tour
McLain Ward blasted to the top of the new season ranking winning the Longines Global Champions Tour of Antwerp Grand Prix in front of a buzzing, sell-out crowd this evening. Second place went to LGCT fan favourite Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (SWE) with Casall ASK and third to a thrilled Constant van Paesschen (BEL) with Citizenguard Toscan de Sainte. The first leg of the prestigious LGCT series was a truly exciting class where the technical demands of course designer Luc Musette really sorted the best from this world-class field.
It was a stunning start to the Championship series that brings equestrian sport to the heart of city centres around the world, from Antwerp to Shanghai and London to Paris.The floodlit Antwerp show ground was buzzing with a party atmosphere, full grandstands and several thousand guests enjoying champagne and first class VIP dining.
As long boats cruised along the wide River Scheldt only a few metres from the edge of the arena, the Championship race got underway with Olympic and World Champion riders competing for a €300,000 prize fund. The tough track saw just fives riders through to the final jump-off with everything to play for.
First to go in the final round, it was a welcome return from injury for Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (SWE) who set the standard with a beautiful clear in 37.33. Bassem Hassan Mohammed (QAT) put in one of the best performances of his career with Primeval Dejavu jumping a treble clear with a jump-off time of 38.38 to finish fourth.
Third to go and favourite to take the win tonight after winning two classes over the last three days, Penelope Leprevost (FRA) and Nayana started at a swift pace looking determined to beat Rolf’s time, but they lowered a tall vertical across the middle of the arena for four faults in a fast time of 35.73.
McLain Ward and Rothchild were the penultimate pair to compete and shaved a narrow 0.21s off Bengtsson’s time with an impressive 37.12. Constant van Paesschen (BEL) had pole position as last to go in the jump-off, but his big-jumping careful mount Citizenguard Toscan de Sainte was not quite quick enough to catch McLain and he stopped the clock at 37.93 to land third.
McLain Ward (winner): “Belgium is my ‘home away from home’ – I always stay with Francois Mathy, so it’s extra special to win here. Competing in Palm Beach all winter the level has got very good, we were lucky to have the top two riders in the world there this year, so it’s good preparation. But the best competition is here in Europe still and always the LGCT presents some of the best riders in the world, and it’s always a great challenge.”
“Rothchild is much easier to ride than he looks, he’s a bit feisty and he has his own jumping style. I’ve had him six years and he started as a second horse for me, but a good campaigner, and last year I was a little short of horse stock and I needed him to step up and he’s really been wonderful. He gives me everything he has and he’s my friend – I appreciate him very much.”
Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (2nd): “We have had a little break in our preparation because of my leg injury so we have not been competing so much, so (Casall ASK) is fresh and we have come back to the shows and he has put in a great performance. He was very good today.”
Constant van Paesschen (3rd): “I am feeling amazing. My horse jumped unbelievable. I am so happy. I didn’t expect to finish so high, it was just great! I have no words.”
Jan Tops, President of the Longines Global Champions Tour: “Everything went very smoothly here for our first time in Antwerp. The people here working on the show I have known for many years and I have been to the event before. Belgium is one of the leading countries for breeding good horses and we didn’t have a leg here yet – what could be a better place than here in Antwerp?”
Eric Thoelen, President of the Organising Committee of LGCT Antwerp: “It was an exciting challenge to put on this show. It is exciting that we could hook up to the fantastic existing organisation of LGCT. I am born and raised in Antwerp and I am very proud to have LGCT in Antwerp now, so thanks again to Jan for coming to my hometown. The whole machine behind LGCT gives it an additional positive vibe, and brands like Longines and the experience of the LGCT organisation is something we really feel the benefit of. ”
Charle Villoz, Vice President Sales Longines International: “Once more we are proud to be associated with the LGCT. Longines is having a fantastic time together with the team of Jan Tops on this particular tour. Antwerp was fantastic, the spirit of the people, and the organisation was very professional. Most importantly, the competition was incredibly tense and as someone said there was the crème de la crème of the riders here. Even as someone who doesn’t spend every day in the world of horses, today there was a real show and a real tense competition. It was fantastic – Longines is very proud to be associated with the GCT.”
Jan Tops – Founder and President of Longines Global Champions Tour
McLain Ward – LGCT Antwerp Grand Prix winner
Rolf-Göran Bengtsson – Grand Prix runner-up
Constant van Paesschen – Grand Prix 3rd place
Charles Villoz – Vice President Sales Longines International
Eric Thoelen – President Organising Committee Longines Global Champions Tour Antwerp