Denis Lynch and Spencer Smith of New York Empire showcased enormous grace under pressure to claim pole position for Saturday’s showdown in GCL Valkenswaard.
A total of four teams will kick off tomorrow with a score of zero, with the top two separated by just six-tenths of a second on their combined scores - remarkable considering the large grass arena and very different types of horses used in today’s competition. With a 50% clear rate, the time was crucial to still be in with a chance to win tomorrow’s final.
With every point counting in the race to the finals and the GC Prague Playoffs, New York Empire are hungry to convert their pole into a win on Saturday and boost their campaign to climb up the Championship leaderboard.
Speaking after their round Lynch said: “The footing here is fantastic, we are delighted with our two horses today and looking forward to tomorrow even though it will be bigger and more difficult.”
Spencer Smith then added: “I thought it was a nice course, my mare is owned by Georgina on the team there, she handled it brilliantly, she's a super horse and popped round easily. I was just putting in a clear today and will worry about the time tomorrow.”
Uliano Vezzani made full use of the sweeping 125m by 85m arena. There was plenty for the horses to look at, a delicate Longines plank at fence two and the oxer the vertical in the middle of the combination caught out a few as the whole course required pinpoint focus and precision right to the final stride.
Mid-season transfer Douglas Lindelöw made it look a very jumpable course on Casquo Blue as they cruised around the expansive grass arena to bring home a clear as first to go. Teammate Olivier Philippaerts brought out the talented grey Zayado. They also finished on a 0 score to be the first team out and double clear putting the pressure on the rest of the field.
Edwina Tops-Alexander and Fellow Castlefield had a rub in the middle part of the triple combination but it stayed up and they looked set for another clear until the Stal Tops fence came down as the penultimate fence putting them on the back foot. German legend Marcus Ehning produced a fast foot perfect clear on Calanda leaving the team on 4 faults.
Speed demon Julien Epaillard was clearly under team orders today riding Solero MS at a gallop from before fence one. Unfortunately, they got too flat to the triple combination knocking the last part and handing over 4 faults to his teammate. Long time Monaco Aces member Jos Verlooy and Varoune did their job with ease to bring home the much needed clear and keep the team with just 4 faults on the scoreboard.
New York Empire
Spencer Smith and Quibelle set off with purpose, the pair determined to help New York Empire rise back up the rankings. They flew around the arena, taking each challenge perfectly in their stride and keeping forward momentum throughout for a fast clear. Denis Lynch and GC Chopin's Bushi pulled out all the stops to catapulting them straight into the lead and starting in prime position tomorrow.
There was disappointment for Prague Lions as Leopold van Asten and VDL Groep Elegant Hero Z didn't back off the last vertical in the triple combination causing an early 4 faults before there was a miscommunication at the last line and the pair brought home a total of 11 faults. Marc Houtzager made light work of the 1.50m track on Sterrehof's Calimero to bring home a clear and keep the Lions on 11 faults overnight.
Under pressure this weekend to try and close the gap to current Championship leaders Valkenswaard United. Christian Ahlmann and Clintrexo Z were first to go for the Shanghai Swans. Once again the clear round machine produced the goods and kept them on track for back to back wins until Max Kühner and Elektric Blue P’s roll back to the Adamus oxer was too tight causing them to jump it as a vertical knocking it down and putting the pressure on for tomorrow.
Madrid In Motion
It was a sticky stride to the first fence for Eric van der Vleuten and Wunschkind but they were lucky and pulled off a clear for the team. Eduardo Alvarez Aznar and Seringat drifted to the outside to the GC upright and then it was three fences down in a row for the pair causing Madrid In Motion to carry 12 faults over to tomorrow’s showdown.
Continuing on their flying first-round form Yuri Mansur and Ibelle ASK made it just inside the time allowed to pick up a clear round once again. However, knowing he was on a slow horse Bassem Mohammed pushed from being the start line. There was heartache when Gunder crossed the finish line still over the time allowed to bring the team total up to 1 fault.
The Paris Panthers brought out their A-squad with the formidable line-up of Penelope Leprevost on GFE Excalibur de la Tour Vidal and Harrie Smolders riding Monaco. They opted for a slightly steadied pace but showed their true place to finish on a 0 score and set themselves up perfectly for tomorrow's showdown.
St Tropez Pirates
It wasn’t meant to be today for the St Tropez Pirates pairing of Olivier Robert and Vangog du Mas Garnier and world number one Daniel Deusser with Casallvano. Both experienced combinations had two fences down each bringing their tally up to an unusual 16 faults after round 1.
Evelina Tovek teamed up with Frank Schuttert for today’s first round of thrilling action at Tops International Arena. Up first the young talent Tovek attacked the course taking huge strides around the testing track. They had a light touch causing a rail before handing over to Schuttert and Lyonel D who also had a fence down to bring their total up to 8 faults.
Team anchor Bart Bles and the striking Kriskras DV took the track with every forward stride possible. It was one down for the pair to cross the finish line with 4 faults on the board. Suus Kuyten put in a perfect display of dedication and commitment on board Alfa Jordan to pick up just 1-time fault and the Giants finish as the only team on 5 faults.
The final team to finish with a double clear today was Berlin Eagles pairing on Philipp Weishaupt and Christian Kukuk. After a 6 week break from the arena Coby looked fresh and full of energy, they didn’t go for the time but left all the fences up before the striking grey Checker repeated it with Kukuk to finish with a flawless 0 faults.
It was a really unlucky pole each for Abdel Saïd and Sameh El Dahan on and Arpege du Ru and Wicked Enigma respectively. However, this proved costly after such a high clear rate putting them on the back foot for a podium finish tomorrow.
Last to go Miami Celtics fielded U25 rider Andrzej Oplatek and Conthinder first. Despite the brave strategy of taking all the inside turns it wasn’t to be for the young gun and he picked up 8 faults but in a fast time. Up next Johnny Pals had the same problem with Fernando napping to the iin-gate before he reached the starting timers. Once through the stop clock they flew with plenty of score and produced a clear to help Celtics finish the fastest on 8 faults.