Photo: LGCT / Stefano Grasso
Rio-bound Nicola Philippaerts (BEL) rounded out his weekend at the Longines Global Champions Tour of Valkenswaard with a stunning win in the final CSI5* class, the 1.55m VDL Groep Prix. With €91,900 on offer, the top riders and horses in the world took to the grass arena to battle it out for the lion’s share of the prize purse.
The double of early clears proved just an illusion, as the tough course saw many of the riders fail to progress through to the jump-off, with tight angles and related distances asking questions to the 41 strong field. Big names caught out were World Number 1 Christian Ahlmann (GER) and Codex One, Scott Brash (GBR) and Hello Forever, Gregory Wathelet (BEL) with Citizenguard Taalex and Daniel Deusser (GER) with Equita van’t Zorgvliet. However a total of seven went through to the jump off with Hans-Dieter Dreher (GER) and Embassy II, Jos Verlooy (BEL) and Sunshine, Harrie Smolders (NED) with Don VHP Z, Max Kühner (AUT) with Chardonnay 79, Abdel Saïd (EGY) with Hope van Scherpen Donder and Wout-Jan van der Schans (NED) with Capetown joining Nicola in the jump off. Georgina Bloomberg (USA) and Caleno 3 also rode a beautiful clear, however picked up an unlucky time fault, eliminating them from the next phase of the competition.
Nicola Philippaerts (BEL) was the first to go, and set off at a phenomenal pace, letting the stunning dapple grey 9 year old H&M Harley v. Bisschop gallop to the fences, and opening up his stride to make full use of the expansive arena. The pressure was on as the final six riders took their turn, and despite some valiant attempts, Nicola kept hold of the lead with an unbeatable time of 40.80s. Compatriot and young talent Jos Verlooy (BEL) had a couple of hairy moments with Sunshine, and while the pair pushed through the jump off, giving all to the fences, the larger slower striding Sunshine couldn’t match Nicola’s time. The experienced duo of Hans-Dieter Dreher (GER) and Embassy II looked set to be a serious threat to the leaders, however came a close second, pushing all through the course, but could only settle for crossing the line in 41.21s.
Home hero Harrie Smolders (NED) and Don VHP Z came a popular 4th, with Max Kühner (AUT) and Chardonnay 79 rounding out the top 5.