Italy’s course designer Uliano Vezzani had the difficult task on his hands separating the wheat from the chaff in the 6th Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of the season. With €500.000 up for grabs, it was no surprise that the field was thick with top Grand Prix horses. Where in the past Vezzani would easily go back to his standard approach of a difficult distance into a double, this time around the Italian came up with a novelty: the hairpin.
Just like in Ramatuelle / St. Tropez, the ring shows a significant slope with the in-gate sitting at the lowest point and the opposite corner being the highest. Playing with that slope is a game every course designer enjoys and ever rider despises and Vezzani added extra difficulty to it.
Where did it sit?
The hairpin was a tight turn after fence 5 leading up to fence 6, the GC gate with a big white plank at maximum height. The red oxer at 5 was jumped coming out of the Longines triple and at a fairly open, 8 stride approach. Fence 1 (F1) blocked the view for a good look at F6 and F11 limited the drifting possibilities forcing the couples back up the hill.
Next, F6 to F7 walked as a slightly short 4 to a massive oxer followed by a direct 6 to a Liverpool vertical at F8.
How did it ride?
The first combinations all struggled with the hairpin. Some horse had difficulties with the balance being thrown forward over the F5 after opening their step in the 8 strides and before they had regained balance they were turned 180° heading back upwards. In the beginning of the Grand Prix in the cosy Stades des Hespérides, many riders rode into the turn early making is a real hairpin with the sharp angle drastically reducing their speed and momentum. That is why many horses struggled with the plank, remarkably not taking it down with the front feet but often landing to short behind it, clipping it with the back hoofs, the real evidence that the hairpin reduced the power.
As a consequence the slight holding 4 strides from F6 to F7 got normal and some found it very long after a short and dead landing. Both front and backbar went down a couple of times with horses not making the stretch across or riders pushing as much as they could to get over but forgetting to protect the front.
How did it get neutralized?
With horses like Beauville Z N.O.P, MoM’s Toupie de la Roque, Mumbai, H&M Indiana, Fellow Castlefield being all LGCT Grand Prix winners or podium finishers you can’t say that Vezzani hadn’t spoiled spectators both in the stadium or in front of the tele.
Yet 13 clears is more than average in an LGCT Grand Prix, especially under floodlight and many riders worrying about that hairpin turn and the line to come.
The way out was the 77 second time allowed which seemed to be generous. The majority of the field finished in the 71 to 73 second bracket. That’s 4 seconds or more inside the TA. Of the 13 clears 10 finished the initial round under 74 seconds. Only Ömer Karaevli finished outside the TA with a rail and a time penalty on this score card, using 0.01 to long over the course.
Once it was clear that Vezzani had been maybe a bit to casual with his calculations, the riders quickly found a way to neutralize the hairpin.
After a quarter of the field had passed, more riders started to stay wide and out after F5. The managed to find more time to balance, stay out wider and get a better swing into and out of the turn to F6, reducing the hairpin to a more normal curve. The found more momentum to the plank without overriding it. The next line remained a normal 4 strides and they even found time to add from F7 to F8, riding a controlled 7 to the Liverpool instead of an open 6.
The jump-off was a real treat with last man to go, Maikel van der Vleuten winning the Cannes Grand Prix in style after a real tough battle in that race against the clock and the entire Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix is worth watching again. Especially now knowing how Uliano Vezzani’s boobytrap got neutralized by his own doing.
In Stockholm next week Vezzani once again holds the pencil in what will be a completely new arena for him and the riders as the D shaped arena in the Olympic Stadium is redesigned. The special shape arena that inherited its from the athletic track that skirts the ring is remodelled to a square ring further down the midfield of the stadium where the 1912 Olympic Games were held.