The battle for the 2021 GCL Championship intensified dramatically today with Valkenswaard United taking over the overall ranking lead from Shanghai Swans.
In the tense final moments of the GCL of Valkenswaard, Monaco Aces Jos Verlooy and Laura Kraut powered to victory after overnight leaders Paris Panthers failed to achieve the double clear they needed. Valkenswaard United finished in second spot catapulting them into the ranking lead after a top-level team competition full of jeopardy as the temperature hots up in GCL series.
Uliano Vezzani’s course was a thoughtful, flowing track, using the full width and breadth of the expansive grass arena. The Italian course designer provided the riders with plenty of options, with choices of strides to many of the combinations and the chance to take tight turns. A curving line to the GC Prague Playoffs upright caught out those who took it too tight, and the final line was a double combination before a wide oxer to the finish. This was a track best suited to larger-striding horses, careful at the fences but able to cover the ground effortlessly in the distances between.
Glory went today to the Monaco Aces, with the team taking their first win of the season. A delighted Verlooy said: "The horses jumped great and everything went to plan today. It is amazing to have grass back at Tops International Arena, it is super, the horses love it, and there is nothing more beautiful than jumping on a nice grass arena."
His teammate Laura Kraut agreed: "Picking up the ranking points is brilliant especially in my first team event of the year. The footing is brilliant here, it is like jumping off a trampoline, it really couldn’t be better."
The Berlin Eagles brought Jane Richard Philips in on Fouego de la Closiere. The punchy grey got deep to the Longines plank knocking it down, but coming home on a very fast four. It wasn’t meant to be for Ludger Beerbaum and Mila either as they also had a back rail half way round dropping the team to a score of 21 overall.
Leading the championship going into today’s GCL Valkenswaard round 2 but with one of the worst scores today, the Shanghai Swans were looking for some serious damage control in this round of action. First to go Christian Ahlmann who brought in Dominator 2000 Z. They bounced around the arena, but the lightest of touches took their score up to 16 faults. Pius Schwizer managed to keep the hot mare Wh Delilah under control and they picked up a clear to help the Swans finish in 11th overall.
Hamburg Giants followed the same strategy of the Swans, with Rodrigo Giesteira Almeida swapping to his top horse GB Celine. Under 25 rider Zoe Osterhoff stayed with her horse Ferrari VDL and they nearly produced the all important clear but it wasn’t to be as they finished with 4. It then started to unravel for Rodrigo and GB Cleine as two poles tumbled, leaving the Giants on a large total of 21 faults and at the bottom end of the leader board.
Madrid In Motion
Madrid In Motion kept the same father-son line up of Eric and Miakel van der Vleuten, however, Miakel swapped to his 11 year old gelding. Eric was first up, keeping Wunschkind for this round of action, and the pair flew around the track - surviving a couple of lucky rubs before two poles fell passing the reins to son Maikel with 16 already on the board. Maikel and Beauville Z looked on flawless form, and they brought home a clear for the team keeping them on 16 faults today.
Under 25 rider Andrzej Oplatek stepped up for the Miami Celtics today, riding Stakkatan. The young Polish just getting caught out by the first fence going into the combination on the long side. Johnny Pals went for a steady approach with Fernando, his tactic clearly to bring home a clear and limit the score. It paid off, the team finishing with 12 faults and just inside the top 10.
The dynamic duo of Sven Schlusselburg and the beautiful grey Bud Spencer paired up with Abdel Said and Bandit Savoie again for round 2. Both combinations managed to deliver the crucial clear for the team allowing them to pick up 7th place with just the 4 faults from yesterday gaining them crucial Championship points at this stage of the season.
St Tropez Pirates
Both Pirates opted to make a horse change, and Pieter Devos brought out his 12 year old chestnut Jade vd Bisschop . They gave a masterful performance, but were also caught out towards the end of the course and couldn’t quite bring home the clear today. Daniel Deusser brought out his experienced bay Killer Queen VDM, the 11 year old flying over the fences for just one down leaving the Pirates on 12 faults and in 10th place.
The Vikings brought out James Wilson with his top mare Imagine de Muze. After an unlucky pole yesterday they proved why they are a valuable member of the team and kept them in contention for a podium place with a sensible clear. Team anchor Frank Schuttert pulled it out the bag once again on Lyonel D to deliver a clear that was good enough for the Vikings to take 6th place overall.
The London Knights knew they had to keep all the fences up today to be in with a chance of being on the podium. Olivier Philippaerts brought back his top horse H&M Legend Of Love and the pair put in a foot-perfect round to bring home the clear. Teammate Ben Maher stayed on the consistent gelding Explosion W, they were in harmony together flowing around the huge grass arena with ease and delivered the second clear for the Knights to keep them on their overnight score of 4 faults in a fast time of 135.14s.
New York Empire
New York Empire made a strategic rider change to bringing Shane Breen in with LGCT Grand Prix of Monaco winner Z7 Ipswich. The pairing of Denis Lynch and GC Chopin’s Bushi tested the track first knocking one fence down before passing over to Breen. There was heartache when Z7 Ipswich was off form today and they finished with 12 faults catapulting towards the bottom end of the scoreboard with a total of 20 faults.
The Doha Falcons were one of just two teams who made no horse or rider changes. First to go was Bassem Mohammed with Gunder, and they took on the course with determination. Making it look easy they handed the baton to Philip Houston and Sandros S Bella still on a clean sheet. Aiming for their first ever podium finish, Houston kept his head and rode a stunning fast clear to help the Falcons take bronze today.
Home city team Valkenswaard United made no changes and brought back Edwina Tops-Alexander and Identity Vitseroel along with Alberto Zorzi and Cinsey. First to go Identity Vitseroel jumped her heart out for the Australian rider, and they produced the clear. Albert Zorzi thrived on the pressure as he piloted Cinsey round to pick up another fast clear and claim second place for Valkenswaard United with 0 faults in a time of 141.12 as well earning the overall season Championship leader armbands as they head into the next leg in Stockholm.
Prague Lions pulled out the big guns as Niels Bruynseels returned to the team today on French VDS. Looking fresh the combination were on track for a clear until a pole fell late and they added an unfortunate 4 faults to the team total. Marc Houtzager then rode his trusty Sterrehof’s Dante N.O.P for what looked like an easy clear round. The Lions took home 5th place with just 4 faults in a time of 141.71 and moved up the ranking.
Jos Verlooy stepped up with the consistent gelding Varoune for today’s round of action. They kept a steady but flowing pace and rhythm throughout, producing a foot-perfect clear for the team. The pressure was firmly on the shoulder of Laura Kraut with Confu, another big striding horse, and they left all the fences up as they powered around the arena. They bettered the time of Valkenswaard United and piled the pressure on the final team, Paris Panthers to deliver a faster double clear.
Two of the fastest riders on the circuit Harrie Smolders and Darragh Kenny joined forces again for the second round of action. First to go Harrie swapped to ride Monaco, taking strides out where possible he delivered a fast clear and gave Darragh time to focus on keeping the fences up. But Kenny also opted for the fast approach, but this proved costly as two poles came tumbling down with Scarlett du Sart Z dropping the team right down the order off the podium and finishing in 8th place with 8 faults.