The Longines Tops International Arena came alive with excitement as spectators gathered to witness the exhilarating action in the GCL of Valkenswaard. Against the backdrop of an epic atmosphere that captivated both seasoned fans and newcomers alike as St Tropez Pirates took top honours. Michael Pender onboard HHS Catwalk and last to go Simon Delestre riding I Amelusina R 51 were the only team to finish with just a single rail down.
World number one Henrik von Eckermann and Richard Howley stormed to second for the Scandinavian Vikings continuing their best season so far. Ultra consistent Paris Panthers collected yet another podium finish and closed the gap to Riesenbeck International in the overall Championship standings with a third place from Ben Maher on Dallas Vegas Batilly and Harrie Smolders with Monaco N.O.P.
Speaking exclusively to GCTV, the St. Tropez Pirates debriefed on their first podium finish for 2023. Simon Delestre explained: “I think we have a fantastic team with Athina Onassis behind us, and a team that always tries to fight with together for the best result.”
Adding valuable points at a crucial stage of the season, the Scandinavian Vikings represented by Richard Howley and Henrik Von Eckermann unpacked their performance with GCTV following their third podium of the season. Having only joined the team in the mid-season transfer period, Howley commented on the value he’s been able to bring to the table at the late stage in the season.
He said: “Delighted to get the opportunity, and be able to do that. It’s very hard to get into these shows, and I am delighted to be part of the GCL and Longines Global Champions Tour.”
Finishing on the podium yet again, Paris Panthers edge closer to the current season leaders, Riesenbeck International powered by Kingsland Equestrian. With just 20 points now separating the two teams, Harrie Smolders and Ben Maher commented on the advantage of finishing on the podium in the GCL of Valkenswaard.
With 20 points the difference, just two stages left in the 2023 GCL Championship race, Smolders reiterated how much the Championship race is still very much alive. He said: “We closed the gap a little bit, but I think we still have a way to go so that will be hard to beat them - but, who knows, hopefully after Riyadh the Panthers are on top!”
Beyond the intense competition, the GCL of Valkenswaard also offered an array of family-friendly entertainment, creating a complete experience for attendees of all ages. Attendees enjoyed a vibrant carnival atmosphere filled with fun activities, food stalls, and interactive zones, making it an ideal outing for families to enjoy quality time together.
The drama continues in the overall Championship after an 8th place finish today for Riesenbeck International (294 points) powered by Kingsland Equestrian the Championship race is on as Paris Panthers (274 points) narrow the gap to just 20 points. Madrid In Motion (234 points) cling onto third place but after 9th place finish in Valkenswaard can definitely not win the overall Championship making it a two-team race to the Finals. After their win St Tropez Pirates leap into fourth place for 225 points with just 2 events left!
Four teams were on a clean sheet after round 1 as Uliano Vizzani built a very jumpable 1.55m track in the expansive grass arena. Leaving it all to play for in Round 2 the 1.60m course proved very testing catching out some of the biggest names in the sport.
Home team Valkenswward United saw Edwina Tops-Alexander secure her first GCL clear round of the season onboard Fellow Castlefield. An unlucky rail down for Marcus Ehning and Priam du Roset added to their 4 faults from round 1 left the team in 6th place overall as the slowest on 8 faults.
The tables turned in Valkenswaard as Championship leaders Risenbeck International powered by Kingsland Equestrian had an unexpected round 2. One down from Philipp Weishaupt and Coby 8 put all the pressure on his teammate. Making his debut for the team this year Eoin McMahon and Mila lost it to the last adding a stride and taking the jump out causing the squad to finish on 12 faults and right down the order opening the game for Paris Panthers to snactch crucial points off them.
Once again round two proved tough for Riyadh Blue powered by AlHilal as the duo of Abdulrahman Alrajhi on Babalou and David Will with My Prins van Dorperheide collected 8 faults but in a slow time putting them just off the podium today.
The pressure of the Championship title got to Ben Maher and Dallas Vegas Batilly as two early poles fell for the Paris Panthers. Harrie Smolders pulled it out the bag with Monaco N.O.P to finish clear and most importantly keep them miles ahead of Riesenbeck International to pick up a podium and solid points as the race between the two teams hots up.
Last to go St Tropez Pirates had two rails in hand. U25 rider Micheal Pender opted for his second horse HHS Catwalk and pulled out all the stops to produce a flawless clear. Flying Frenchman Simon Delestre and I Amelusina R 51 looked on track to make it the only clean sheet of the day until the final line caught him out but only finishing with one down secured them the win as the pair high fived while exciting the arena to a huge cheer from the crowd.
As the sun set on the picturesque Longines Tops International arena, participants and spectators alike were left with memories of a truly unforgettable experience as the Championship race now heads to Rome from 15 - 17 September.