The heavyweight duo from the Shanghai Swans dominated at the magnificent Royal Hospital Chelsea for today’s GCL London, with Christian Ahlmann and Max Kühner taking pole position for Saturday’s showdown.
The Swans are currently in second of the overall ranking and with every score counting the pressure to leapfrog Valkenswaard United is mounting as the Championship accelerates towards its climax.
With tactics at the forefront of everyone’s minds, four teams head into tomorrow on a clear score, with London Knights, Paris Panthers and Doha Falcons joining the Swans in the best possible position.
The Royal Hospital Chelsea provides the backdrop to this weekend’s event, the beautiful historic building resplendent in the sunshine as the world’s top show jumpers took centre stage. The famous Chelsea Pensioners watched on as the stars of the sport competed in their back garden, while spectators took their seats in the covered grandstands to watch the high-octane team competition. VIPs including Andrew Lloyd Webber, Sarah Cox and Mary Kate Olsen took in stunning views across the arena from the chic and stylish hospitality.
A beaming Kuhner said: "When we walked the course we said it's a nice smooth course we didn’t expect so many faults. We have two good horses today both are in very good shape."
Talking about the Championship race Ahlmann explained: "This is actually what everyone expects its a hard fight every show to make it happen, somehow to stay on the top and this will not change until the end of the season."
Today Uliano Vezzani built a big, difficult course, the 1.50m track a true test for the teams. Two doubles caught out a few combinations, and a delicate final GC vertical dropped at the lightest of touches.
First, to take on the track was Roger Yves Bost riding a new face on the GCL circuit Bluemuch Des Baleines. They rocketed around the arena, the horse with springs in his heels, to bring home the first clear of the day in a phenomenally quick time. But it wasn’t going to be a double clear today as Jodie Hall Mcateer and her top horse Salt'N Peppa came home on 8 faults.
Gold and Silver Medalist Peder Fredricson and H&M Christian K were first to take up the reins for current ranking leaders Valkenswaard United. The pair took huge leaps throughout the course but it was an agonising late four faults at the Longines oxer. Aiming to continue their clean sheet streak Alberto Zorzi and Cinsey gave it everything they had but a light rub at the first part of the double saw their score rocket to 8 faults and sit midfield after round 1.
The Monaco Aces brought out Jos Verlooy with Jacobien Dwerse Hagen and looked to be going for a speedy round. Their tactic didn’t pay off and they came home with two down. Passing the baton to teammate Laura Kraut and Confu, the duo looked on flying form right up until the second to the last fence came crashing down and the Aces finished with a score of 12 faults.
Rodrigo Giesteira Almeida opted for a steady clear on J'Adore Ter Putte but it was all over for the Hamburg Giants as mid season singing Natalia Czernik and Duke G had two refusals eliminating the team from this leg of the competition.
Agustin Covarrubias and Flora de L' Impermeabl were in top form until it fell apart at the final two fences and finished with 8 overall. Sameh El Dahan was next to go, his bay Suma's Zorro both knocked the exact same fence as Covarrubias after taking the risky inside turn to second to last bringing the team up to 12 faults.
The Vikings were out for victory with Evelina Tovek and Winnetou de la Hamente Z setting off with determination but a fence down in the double-ruled out their chance of a clean sheet today. With pressure on teammate Frank Schuttert to deliver the goods and keep the team in touch he didn't look in harmony with Lyonel D and had two down causing the Vikings to finish on 12 as well.
New York Empire
Young gun Spencer Smith opted to ride Theodore Manciais for this twisty track. It was flawless round until the last fence fell, dropping them down the order. Team anchor Scott Brash and Hello Shelby had a very unusual fault early on. They continued to attack the course and finished with a fast four to add and bring the team up to 8 faults.
Bringing out the heavyweight duo of Christian Ahlmann and Max Kühner the Shanghai Swans pulled off a sublime double clear to rocket themselves to the top spot. Only the second clear of the class Ahlmann chose for a steady clear on Clintrexo Z giving the perfect assist to Max for the double clear. It was a lightning-fast round from Kühner and Elektric Blue P to secure the pole position and set them up perfectly for tomorrow.
Laura Klaphake and Quin left out a stride in the first related distance starting how they meant to go on. There was a slight miscommunication in the final double as they wiggled their way through causing it to fall. Germany’s Christian Kukuk and the beautiful Checker were the fourth clear of the day meaning the Eagles only carry four faults over to tomorrow’s showdown.
Home team and 2018 & 2019 GCL London winners the London Knights brought out Nicola Philippaerts and Gijs first. The powerful duo picked the all-important clear in style before handing over the reins to teammate Emily Moffitt. Looking to perform well on home soil with her fiery Winning Good looking keen and enthusiastic in the stunning arena. With newly crowned individual gold medalist and London Knights team manager Ben Maher watching on from the kiss and cry, Moffitt kept cool under pressure and delivered the goods. The Knights stay in contention to be the first team to win three events in the same location.
Fresh for their back to back GCL Victories in Monaco and Berlin the Paris Panthers once again put themselves at the top end of the leaderboard. This time fielding Gregory Wathelet and Picobello Full House Ter Linden Z who made it look easy before bringing out Darragh Kenny and Vinci de Beaufour to complete the double clear in style. They were just slower than the Swans to claim second place going into tomorrow's final.
Madrid In Motion
U25 rider Michael G Duffy took up the reins of Vertige de Galarzacs looking on form and making a beautiful turn to the GCL oxer. It was an undeserved four faults for the talented combination to knock the team down the order. Mark McAuley gave Cap West his first appearance for Madrid in Motion and it was an unlucky four faults to add to the total bringing the team up to 8 faults in a slow time of 143.60 seconds.
Taking it slow both Niels Bruynseels and Jur Vrieling had a fence down each causing them to finish as the slowest combined time on 8 faults. Riding Ilusionata van't Meulenhof and Fiumicino van de Kalevallei, they looked set for a spectacular double clear but luck wasn’t on their side today.
St Tropez Pirates
Michael Pender brought out grey HHS Fast Forward and dared the powerful horse to the fences. A small trip meant he didn’t get the stride planned midcourse and pole came tumbling down. The flying Frenchman Olivier Robert scooped up the fastest round on four faults with Vivaldi Des Meneaux to keep the team in contention as the fastest with 8.
Johnny Pals knew only a clear would keep the Celtics in the running for a chance of glory tomorrow. He cruises the striking grey Charley around the large arena having an unlucky fence and one time fault. It wasn’t meant to be today for Ellen Whitaker and the eye-catching stallion Arena Uk Winston. They finished with a surprising 16 faults and the Celtics have to settle for the largest score of the day.
The final team to go pulled it out the bag delivering two flawless clear rounds from Yuri Mansur on Ibelle Ask and Constant van Paesschen with Isidoor van de Helle but in a slow time to pick up fourth place overall and put them in prime position for tomorrow's showdown.