Valkenswaard United took pole position for Saturday's GCL showdown as their combined pinpoint accuracy and blistering speed put them on top of the leaderboard in the first round of GCL Doha. Five teams finished on a zero score after a nail-biting first round, with some foot-perfect rounds from Berlin Eagles and New York Empire.
This season's teams are packed with strength and depth after a busy off-season making tactical changes. The horsepower is the best of the best here in Doha, Qatar and everyone was keen to kick-off 2021 with a bang at superb Longines Arena, AL SHAQAB.
The dynamic duo of Peder Fredricson and Marcus Ehning were just under a second faster than Berlin Eagles in second place while New York Empire soared into third.
From the leading team going into Round 2 on Saturday Marcus Ehning explained: “On Saturday we need two double clears but we also need to be fast. Saturday is a new day but we will try out best.”
Peder Fredricson smiled and said: “It feels great to go into Saturday on a clean sheet, I am very happy with today - both of our horses jumped good and Hansson is feeling great back at this bigger level.”
It was clear from the start that the influential first leg was being tackled with strong determination from all the teams. The high calibre combinations proved there was no room for error as every fence was crucial in a sign of an incredibly exciting team championship race.
With five of the teams jumping double clears around Uliano Vezzani’s 1.50/1.55m track, team riders, owners and managers tried out tactics in today’s opening round to see how best to play Saturday’s showdown.
It was a phenomenal start for the Prague Lions as first to go Jur Vrieling and Fiumicino van de Kalevallei made the complex track look easy as they flew round to produce an accurate clear. The pressure was on Niels Bruynseels to navigate the expansive course with his extremely quick mare Frenchy VDS, but the second to last line cost the team multiple placings as two fences fell leaving them on a total of 8 faults.
Previous overall GCL season champions Valkenswaard United were under the spotlight with high expectations as they put forward big names Peder Frericson and Marcus Ehning. The experienced pair threw down the gauntlet to the other teams in the opening leg with the fastest double clear in a combined time of 132.41 with Hansson WL and Stargold.
Young gun Jeanne Sadran and Vannan delivered a punchy clear round full of spirit before handing the reins over to Jos Verlooy and Varoune. It was looking like a foot-perfect round for the well-known combination until the lightest touch of the hind legs of the final fence meant they finished with 4 faults and the team had to settle for tenth place.
There was drama when the fairly new partnership of Rene Lopez and Kheros van’t Hoogeinde lost his stirrup at the second to last fence, but it didn't stop the pair as they produced a clear to help put the Cascais Charms into contention. The Olympic champion Eric Lamaze knew exactly what he needed to do on Fine lady as they took all the inside turns, but the 1.60m wide oxer midway through the course caught him out and they finished with 4 faults.
The stunning grey gelding Checker of Christian Kukuk helped the Berlin Eagles fly into second place with a sensational clear round under the lights at Al Shaqab. Philip Weishaupt was lightning fast and showed fans around the world exactly what Coby can do as they went for the double clear, but couldn’t quite match the pace of Valkenswaard United and finished 2nd in 133.33 seconds.
One of the most formidable teams on the starting grid has added extra firepower and it paid off today. Max Kühner proved he was on flying form with a seemingly effortless clear round on Elektric Blue P. His new teammate Christian Ahlmann and the 10 year old stallion Solid Gold Z were under pressure to hold firm and they notched up a double clear finishing 5th ahead of the final round on Saturday.
After a big shakeup over the winter off-season the team fielded newbie Johnny Pals who didn't waste any time in the air on Fernando. The playful stallion produced a fantastic clear in his debut appearance in GCL. The combination of Maurice Tebbel and Don Diarado knocked the Longines Oxer towards the end of the course dropping the team right down the leaderboard to 9th place.
The on form and extremely talented combination of Evelina Tovek and Winnetou de la Hamente Z got a little long to the final fence but stayed clear putting pressure on team owner Geir Gulliksen and VDL Groep Quatro. The first part of the triple combination fell for Geir as they finished on a team total of 4 faults in 139.38 seconds.
Gregory Wathelet set off round Uliano Vezzani's sweeping course in Al Shaqab's 120m x 80m sand area beneath soaring architecture. The maestro and his gelding Picobello Full House Ter Linden Z kept it cool and went clear, but Penelope Leprevost had a disappointing 12 faults on Verite Une Prince dropping the team to 15th position today.
The home team wanted to impress but the pressure got to Titouan Schumacher and Atome Z and they rolled a poll putting the team on 4 faults early on. The Falcons benefitted quickly from their new signing Constant van Paesschen, the under-25 rider is a significant new recruit to the team and delivered a debut clear with Isidoor van de Helle.
MADRID IN MOTION
Madrid in Motion looked serious from the word go with Eduardo Alvarez Aznar and Rokfeller de Pleville Bois Margot going fast and clear. Mark Mcauley showed his experience and piloted Jasco VD Bisschop round for just one down leaving the team mid field in 7th place.
Olivier Philippaerts riding Le Blue Diamond V’T Ruytershof and Lorenzo de Luca with Telstar de la Pomme both had an unlucky four faults each in a total time of 139.38 putting them in 12th overall.
ST TROPEZ PIRATES
The Pirates had the start they planned for with a double clear from Olivier Robert and Pieter Devos riding Vivaldi Des Meneaux and Jade V Bisschop respectively. Starting their campaign strong they will be one of the key teams to watch on Saturday in Round 2 after finishing 4th today.
NEW YORK EMPIRE
Taking the last spot on the podium today the strong pairing of Denis Lynch and Scott Brash for New York Empire performed impeccably in the impressive sand arena. Their horses Cristello and Hello Jefferson didn't touch a fence and their experience showed putting in speedy rounds to finish on 0 faults in a time of 134.29.
The Giants bought a fresh injection of horsepower for the 2021 season kick-off. Suus Kuyten and set off at a blistering pace on the 13-year-old stallion Alfa Jordan. Teammate Bart Bles riding Kriskras DV tried to keep the team in contention jumping a super clear but they finished down the order in 14th place.