A dramatic first round of GCL Valkenswaard saw thrills and spills at Tops International Arena as the Paris Panthers’ Darragh Kenny and Harrie Smolders - claimed the top spot and pole position for Saturday’s showdown.
A total of five teams will kick off tomorrow with a score of zero, with the top three separated by just over a second on their combined scores - remarkable considering the large grass arena and very different types of horses used in today’s competition.
Speaking after their round, Harrie Smolders said: “It is fantastic to be back on grass, the footing is unreal, it looks amazing but it also rides super so the horses feel really comfortable. So far so good but there are still quite a few teams on a clear and 4 so tomorrow is going to be a tough day.”
Darragh Kenny then added: “We haven’t chosen our horse or riders for tomorrow yet but we just want to jump another two clears.”
Uliano Vezzani made full use of the stunning 125m by 85m grass arena at the spectacular Tops International Arena. There was plenty for the horses to look at, a scopey Longines upright, and an open distance to a spooky-looking liverpool set in the middle of the arena. But it was the final line that caught out the most combinations as it required pinpoint focus and precision to the final stride.
With the magnificent ‘spider’ tower watching over the arena the threat of rain held off, and fans watching from around the world were treated to some great horsemanship in the GCL team competition.
U25 rider Emily Moffitt and her 12 year old Winning Good were the first to take on the Uliano Vezzani track, and they looked confident effortlessly finishing within the time allowed, but an unlucky fence put the Knights on a total of 4 faults early on. Power couple Ben Maher and Explosion W then attacked the course with determination and much to the delight of teammate and team owner Emily Moffitt they delivered the all-important clear keeping the team on 4 faults in 153.05 seconds and in 7th place today.
St Tropez Pirates
Pieter Devos was first for the St Tropez Pirates, the 11 year old Kannabis van de Bucxtale his choice of ride today. It was extremely unlucky when the first part of the final double came tumbling down and added 4 faults to their score. Daniel Deusser and Casallvano knew they had to finish clear, and despite the pressure they brought home a perfect result - keeping the Pirates on 4 faults.
Bassem Mohammed opted for a steadier pace for Doha Falcons adding strides between fences on Gunder. This tactic paid off and they posted a spotless clear round before handing the reins to Philip Houston and Sandros S Bella. Keeping the team in touch Houston also flew over the finish line with 0 faults and they go into tomorrow's showdown with the first clean sheet of the day, but in a slow time of 160.43
Young gun Jodie Hall McAteer set off with a purpose on Kimosa van het Kritrahof , the pair determined to prove their place on the team. They flew around the arena, taking each challenge perfectly in their stride and keeping a forward momentum throughout. They pulled out all the stops, finishing with an extremely impressive and speedy clear for the team. But there was disappointment for the Charms after Eric Lamaze and Chacco Kid had two refusals towards the end of the course, eliminating the team and put them out of the points for this leg of the championship.
New signing for this year Sven Schlusselburg was on the fresh grey Bud Spencer. Just caught out at the Stal Tops Gate double, the pair crossed through the finish line with 4 faults. Keeping the Stars in touch Abdel Said produced a foot-perfect clear on the experienced Arpege du Ru meaning the team just have 4 faults today.
Starting as they mean to go on Jos Verlooy produced a super speedy clear on the consistent horse Jacobien Dwerse Hagen who thrives in the grass arena at Tops International Arena. With one of her top horses in action this weekend Laura Kraut, praised the beautiful grey Confu as she crossed through the finish line to help the Aces sit in second place and keep the all important clean sheet.
Madrid In Motion
Madrid In Motion brought out their A-squad, the formidable line-up of father and son Eric and Maikel van der Vleuten. Riding Wunschkind, Eric’s round was a little sticky to start with but then eased up before the penultimate fence fell putting the pressure onto Maikel. Opting for his rather hot mare Kamara van’t Heike they also had a pole and the team finished with 8 faults and at the latter end of the scoreboard.
As the first rider to approach the first fence from the left Christian Ahlmann and Mandato van de Neerheide had a strong touch on the Longines upright, but it was the Stal Tops gates double that tumbled. It all fell apart for Pius Schwizer and WH Delilah after their early fault and with a pole added in the last line, the current ranking leaders finished with 12 faults and in an unusual 14th place.
Aiming to take over the overall season championship Valkenswaard United fielded the strong couple of Edwina Tops-Alexander with Identity Vitserol and Alberto Zorzi and Cinsey. They both produced the goods on home soil taking on the challenge with ease and finishing on 0 faults and into 4th place.
First up Darragh Kenny took on the track with guts, piloting Scarlett du Sart Z around the course at a gallop and taking every stride out where possible. They attacked the course to fly through the finish clear and lightning fast. Harrie Smolders had time to pace himself after Darragh’s rapid round. Riding Dolin N.O.P Harrie had the lightest of touches at the start but the combination were on flying form also finishing on 0 faults and just quicker than the Monaco Aces to take the lead going into tomorrow’s final.
German star Ludger Beerbaum brought out the stunning grey Mila for the first round of action at GCL Valkenswaard. They looked on song for a flawless performance, but the final fence just toppled out of its cup - 4 faults would be added to the team score. There was further heartache for Under-25 Laura Klaphake and Davenport VDL as they had two down and a time fault causing the Eagles to finish on 13 faults overall.
Leopold van Asten kept it together on the fast gelding VDL Groep Elegant Hero Z to deliver an impressive clear for the Prague Lions. Teammate Marc Houtzager and Sterrehof’s Dante N.O.P, despite the pressure, produced the goods, keeping every fence intact and ensuring the Lions stay in touch with a chance of a podium tomorrow.
New singing for the Cletics Johnny Pals had an early pole by the Longines archway on his bay mare Carlota - puting the duo on the backfoot. Andrzej Oplatek matched his teammate picking up just the 4 faults on Stakkatan, leaving the Celtics with a total of 8 faults overnight.
Beaming with delight as she crossed the finish line, Zoe Osterhoff and Ferrari VDL pulled a stunning clear round out of the bag. But it wasn’t meant to be for the Giants as Rodrigo Giesteira Almeida and Carado added 9 faults to the team total dropping them down the order before tomorrow's Round 2.
James Wilson and Imagine de Muze set sail for the Scandinavian Vikings, the pair taking on the track with every forward stride possible. An unlucky pole fell and the new members of the team handed 4 faults over to Frank Schuttert. Bringing out his consistent mare Carolina they proved why they are such a strong member of the team with another solid clear to slot them in just behind the London Knights.
New York Empire
Speed demon Denis Lynch was clearly under team orders today, riding for a lightning fast round with Cristello. The bay stallion responded beautifully to Lynch’s request, and they produced a clear to keep them in touch. Spencer Smith and Quibelle took a massive leap over the first fence, and soon settled into a flowing but forward rhythm around the expansive arena. They were caught out by the penultimate fence as the double of uprights fell once more leaving them as the fastest team on 4 faults.
My vision is clear. Only the best for the best.