An edge-of-the-seat GCL cliffhanger saw series leaders Valkenswaard United clinging on to pole position in the overall championship with Shanghai Swans propelled into second place after a spectacular victory in Rome.
The electrifying competition came down to the wire as the front runners Monaco Aces suffered a major setback when last to go Jos Verlooy had three down knocking the team down to seventh place. Making her debut on the team Malin Baryard-Johnsson and H&M Indiana picked up the top spot on the podium alongside team anchor Christian Ahlmann and Solid Gold Z as the only team to finish on 8 faults.
Paris Panthers duo of Harrie Smolders and Eve Jobs continued their exceptional form clinching second place with Venue d'Fees des Hazalles and Monaco while Madrid In Motion father and son pairing of Eric and Maikel van der Vleuten claimed the final spot today onboard Wunschkind and Olympic Bronze Medalist Beauville Z.
There are now just 5 points between Valkenswaard United on 247 points at the top of the overall season ranking and Shanghai Swans in second place with 242 points. Paris Panthers have closed in and are just two points behind the Swans in third while London Knights hold on to fourth place further behind with 208 points.
A beaming Malin Baryard-Johnsson said: "I had the last fence down but I knew I had Christian behind me who is a super-strong rider with a very good horse. It was hard today, it was warm and big jumps - we had to fight for it. I am so happy. It is my first competition with the Shanghai Swans and I am thrilled to be in pole position."
Christian Ahlman then explained: "We are in a good position overnight and our horses jumped in great shape already yesterday. Today we had the luck that maybe we haven’t had for the last couple of shows. I am really happy that Malin joins our team for the second half, it for sure makes our team a lot stronger. It was an important day for us, we are hoping that step by step we get closer to Valkenswaard United and today was a huge step."
Uliano Vezzani’s course featured two challenging double combinations, with plenty of riders picking up faults at each. A Longines triple combination was a hefty challenge and a wide oxer by the in-gate meant horses and riders had to keep complete focus until the finish line.
Today was only the second time ever since GCL Mexico City 2016 where no team has jumped a double clear on either days of GCL competition. Fans packed every inch of the picturesque Circus Maximus, cheering and groaning as the greats of the sport were met with thrills and spills galore. Under blue skies, but with a cool breeze, there was drama at almost every moment, with unmissable action all around the arena as teams fought for top.
After a disappointing day yesterday, Cascais Charms made a tactical rider swap bringing Rene Lopez Lizarazo off the bench. Riding Kheros van't Hoogeinde Lopez set off at a speedy pace but it was the front rail of the oxer in front of VIP that fell before he chose to leave a stride out to the final fence which also came tumbling down and it was a hefty 8 faults extra to add. Roger Yves Bost and Bluemuch des Baleines were a little flat entering into the Longines triple causing the middle part to fall and the Charms finished on a total of 45 faults.
Keeping the same ride as yesterday U25 rider Andrzej Oplatek cruised Stakkatan around the fully packed arena. A hard knock on the front rail of an oxer early on in the course along with the upright coming out of the Longines combination meant it was another 8 faults to add to the Celtics total. It looked like Johnny Pals and his fresh horsepower of Fernando were going clear until an unlucky fence fell late bringing the team up to a total of 34 faults and pushing them down the order.
St Tropez Pirates
Young talent Michael Pender and HHS Calais were doing damage control today to keep their team in with a chance of maintaining their position in the championship ranking. The lightest of touches at the middle part of the combination caused it to fall and put pressure on teammate Robert. Olivier Robert and Vangog du Mas Garnier were also caught out at the Longines triple so the team finished on 32 faults overall and dropped down the overall season rankings.
New York Empire
There was drama from the start for New York Empire as young gun Spencer Smith and Ayade Hero Z knocked the teams' chances of climbing the ranks today with a total of 8 faults. Teammate Denis Lynch and Cristello played their cards perfectly as they produced the first clear round of the day to keep the team on 28 faults and in 12th place overall.
It was a disappointing day for the Berlin Eagles as Jane Richard Philips and Clipper du Haut du Roy had four fences down immediately putting the team down the ranks. While a further four faults for Laura Klaphake and her top stallion Quin brought the team up to 37 faults dropping them to 15th place.
A strategic horse change for Sameh El Dahan onto Suma's Zorro paid off as they produced a solid clear round with the horse looking to be in stunning form. Handing over the reins to Abdel Saïd and Bandit Savoie it was a costly four faults as the team had to settle for 20 faults to keep them just inside the top ten.
Proving why she is a key member of the team Evelina Tovek and Winnetou de la Hamente Z delivered the all-important clear once again as she crossed the finish line with a beaming smile and praising the talented mare. Henrik von Eckermann came onto the team today with his massive striding Glamour Girl. They were also a victim of the back rail of the GCL oxer as well as the vertical jumping out of the triple combination to dramatically bring the Vikings tally up to 20 faults but in a fast time of 142.23 which claimed 7th place overall.
Fighting to stay in the top four teams of the Championship race the London Knights fielded Emily Moffitt and fairly new ride Bacara d'Archonfosse to go first. The combination added an extra stride to the Colosseum oxer and landed on the back rail to add four to their overnight score of 12. Onboard the beautiful grey Zayado, Olivier Philippaerts kept calm under pressure and secured the clear round to keep the team on 16 faults but in the slowest combined time of 152.71 seconds.
After a stunning performance in yesterday’s first round Suus Kuyten kept the same horsepower of Alfa Jordan but after two down and a time fault today it was a total of 9 to add. Next up Bart Bles and Comme-Laude W gave it everything they had but it was also an unlucky pole so the Giants finished with 21 and outside of the top 10 today.
It wasn’t to be today for the current ranking leaders as Peder Fredricson and H&M Christian K had an uncharacteristic 8 faults forcing Edwina Tops-Alexander and Fellow Castlefield to go clear if they wanted to stay on top. They did just that flying through the finish line to a standing ovation as the power duo kept United on 16 faults and 5th place at the end.
Mike Kawai stepped onto the team today with the 14 year old Celvin. The U25 rider collected 8 faults before handing the baton to teammate Constant van Paesschen. Riding the same horse as yesterday Isidoor van de Helle were looking for a repeat of their flawless clear round but it wasn’t to be as the GCL double fell once again and the team had to settle for 20 faults in 157.04 seconds.
Madrid In Motion
The iconic father and son duo of Eric and Maikel van der Vleuten joined forces today as team owner Marta Ortega watched on from hospitality. It was an unusual one down for Eric and the experienced Wunschkind but the individual Olympic Bronze Medal duo of Maikel van der Vleuten and Beauville Z kept them on the podium with an incredible clear round much to the crowd's delight.
The Lions came in to today with 8 faults and Jur Vrieling was first to go with Fiumicino van de Kalevallei. They survived a lucky rub early on but finished with 4 on the board. Wanting to keep them in with a chance of a podium Anna Kellnerova and Catch me If You Can OLD set off for a steady clear. It was also one down for the experienced combination to bring the team up to a tally of 16 faults which proved good enough for fourth today.
The Paris Panthers made no changes to their Hamburg winning combination of Eve Jobs on Venue d'Fees des Hazalles and Harrie Smolders with Monaco. They knew they had to deliver the clear, and a fast one at that to put the pressure on the teams to come. Unfortunately, after a clear yesterday Jobs had two down today but Smolders kept them in contention with a fast clear and they finished on 12 faults in 146.91 seconds
The Shanghai Swans knew a good result today could see them catapult up the overall season rankings. First to go and making her debut on the team was Malin Baryard-Johnsson with H&M Indiana. The pair took no risks with Malin putting the mare on a perfect spot but the final fence fell and putting the pressure on Christian Ahlmann and Solid Gold Z. Ahlmann did everything he could for his team and produced a foot-perfect clear to keep them on just the 8 faults and fly into the lead with a super-fast time of 144.79 seconds.
The final team to go, Monaco Aces had everything to lose - the pressure on their shoulders enormous. Jeanne Sadran brought out Unforgettable Damvil however a delicate touch mid course put them on a score of 4, leaving teammate Jos Verlooy with no room for error as the final rider to go. Jos Verlooy brought out Luciano van het Geinsteinde, a horse fairly new to this level, the Belgium ride giving the horse as much time as possible to the fences. They cleared the troublesome GCL double but it then fell apart and a total of 12 faults meant the team’s hopes of a win today were crushed.
My vision is clear. Only the best for the best.