Knights Charge To GCL Ranking Lead After Breathtaking GCL Cascais Victory
Photo: GCL / Stefano Grasso
The London Knights have today catapulted themselves into the overall GCL ranking lead after a phenomenal win today from Ben Maher and Explosion W and Martin Fuchs with Chaplin at GCL Cascais, Estoril.
After their sublimely quick combined time today, the Knights heaped the pressure on the teams to follow in this thrilling competition, storming to an untouchable win after playing to their team’s strengths. In a dramatic turn of fortunes, the Knights have charged to the top of the leaderboard, now with a score of 172 points overall. But the Shanghai Swans will undoubtably be looking for vengeance, as they sit just two points behind the 2018 title holders on 170 points overall. Another strong result for Madrid in Motion today see the team move to 162 points, and third in the Championship standings.
The Knights took the win today in Portugal, finishing ahead of Valkenswaard United’s Marcus Ehning with Comme Il Faut and Bertram Allen with Molly Malone V, and the Paris Panthers who claimed third today after a strong performance from Darragh Kenny with Classic Dream and Gregory Wathelet with Mjt Nevados S.
Ben Maher said “We have had a great season but have had a few weeks that didn’t go as we wanted. But we have momentum now, with the right horses and right riders, so hopefully this is the change in our season."
Martin Fuchs agreed that the team had a plan and really utilised their team’s strengths today. "We both had good and quick horses, so we wanted to put the pressure on the others."
Ben agreed that pressure on those to follow had been the Knights’ tactics: "I knew I’d be a little slower than Martin today, which is why I went first today. That was the game-plan - to put enough pressure on the others to force mistakes."
The ninth round of action in the Championship race was a thrilling showdown, with one of the tightest fields seen so far this season, with the lowest score only 12 faults heading into today's competition.
Frank Rothenberger’s course saw the riders and horses galloping the full length of the grass arena, with some questionable distances and plenty for the riders to think about. The course had thirteen obstacles, with 15 efforts, including a double combination set down the VIP hospitality, a roll back to the GC vertical set away from the in-gate before another Longines double. The time allowed - an element so crucial in the first round - was 80s.
Fans packed the grandstand, with every seat taken for this thrilling round of action. The knowledgable crowd cheered their riders, enjoying the balmy evening including the President of the Republic of Portugal Rebelo Marcelo de Sousa and footballer Gonçalo Guedes.
14 teams would take up the challenge today, the Falcons eliminated after their U25 rider Mike Kawai took a tumble in the first round, and the Hamburg Giants elected to pull out after Jose Alfredo Hernandez Ortega withdrew due to injury.
Here’s how the action unfolded…
Carlos Enrique Lopez Lizarazo was first to take on the track with G&C Arrayan for the Chantilly Pegasus who start today on 12 faults. The back rail of the Longines double fell, adding another four to their score before the reins were passed to Roger-Yves Bost and Castleforbes Talitha - a tactical horse change for this round of action. The experienced Frenchman gave his mare plenty of time and space, but had to fight hard to find the stride to the penultimate oxer. The back rail came down and the team would tumble to a combined score of 20 faults.
New York Empire
Scott Brash and Hello Jefferson were first to take on today’s challenge but the first part of the double set by the VIP hospitality came down, adding four to their overnight score of 9 faults. Daniel Bluman had his hands full with Colestina H, the mare keen and enthusiastic to the fences and it started to come undone as two fences fell, the score dropping down to 21 faults and behind the Pegasus team.
St Tropez Pirates
The Pirates made a rider change with anchor Pieter Devos played up front for this round of action. First to go Lucia Le Jeune Vizzini with Loro Piana Filou de Muze, the huge striding horse clearing the fences with plenty of air. The Italian rider kept very quiet, keeping a bouncing canter to make the longer options on strides, and finished clear - a smile beaming from her face. Pieter Devos brought out top mare Claire Z and kept a steady rhythm throughout the first part of the course. They had a sticky moment as they approached the penultimate oxer, but the bay mare delivered, the duo finishing clear - keeping their score of 8 overall.
The Celtics decided to switch the order of their riders, with William Whitaker first to go with RMF Cadeau de Muze this time. The British rider had to work hard to the GC Prague Playoffs plank, holding the eleven year old bay stallion to make the four strides. But there was heartache as the final vertical fell, another four faults on the board for the team. U25 rider Harry Charles piloted ABC Quantum Cruise to yet another brilliant clear, the Celtics suffering from the time fault collected in the first round on Thursday and finishing this leg with 9 faults.
The Eagles too switched up their rider order, with Christian Kukuk the leader today on Limonchello Nt. But the fifth fence fell, a wide gappy oxer set just before the roll back and the team would plummet to nine faults so far and behind the St Tropez Pirates. U25 rider Emil Hallundbaek kept Chalisco for this afternoon’s showdown, and they once again delivered, finishing clear but crucially the team would slip behind the Celtics with a slower combined time.
Overall ranking leaders the Shanghai Swans fielded Pius Schwizer as their pathfinder, the Swiss star opting for the inside lines with Living The Dream. But their hopes of keeping the overall ranking looked to be in danger after the LGCT vertical fell, as did the final fence, another delicate vertical - the team sinking to a score of 13. Kim Emmen chose the outside turn to the third fence with Teavanta II C Z, and looked to have a calm and collected approach. But the gappy oxer at fence five fell, and the team would take home a tally of 18 faults from Portugal.
The Vikings made no change to their rider or horse line up, with Geir Gulliksen and Edesa S Banjan first to go with an overnight score of 4 faults. But it quickly because 8 after the fifth fence, the gappy oxer fell, and another at the LGCT vertical would drop the team to 12 faults. Christian Ahlmann knew he would need to finish clear with grey stallion Clintrexo Z. But the second oxer fell for the pair, with Christian opting for the inside lines to try keep the team ahead on time. The team would finish on a score of 16.
Madrid in Motion
Team manager and anchor Eric van der Vleuten with Wunschkind would replace Mark McAuley, a strong decision as the mare jumped her heart out today to produce a magical clear, keeping the team on a score of four faults. Eduardo Alvarez Aznar and the consistent Rokfeller de Pleville Bois Margot were next to take on the challenge, knowing another clear could see the team on the podium today. And despite the pressure they delivered, pulling yet another phenomenal clear out of the bag to keep the team on their overnight score of 4 - and an anxious wait to see if they could rise up the results today.
Jane Richard Philips made a horse change to Clipper du Haut du Roy, one of the only horse swaps this week. As they travelled the course the 11 year old gelding became a little strong, keen to the fences and Jane had to work hard to the LGCT vertical, and down the penultimate line. But they finished clear, the team on their overnight score of 4 faults. Abdel Saïd kept Venise du Reverdy under control, adding strides to give them the best possible chance for a clear. But the second part of the Longines double came down, the team falling to eight faults and behind the St Tropez Pirates.
No changes from team manager Jessica Kurten for the Lions today, with Niels Bruynseels and Utamaro D Ecaussines first to take on the challenge for the team. With their first round score of 1 time fault, they knew a double clear could see them at the sharp end of the grid today. Niels survived a lucky rub at the first Cascais oxer and opted for the outside turns - team tactics showing as they went for a steady clear. But the front rail of the GCL oxer came down, the team falling to a score of 5 faults. Wilm Vermeir and Iq van het Steentje knew they couldn’t afford another fence, and despite a lucky rub at the LGCT vertical they finished clear, keeping the team on 5.
Team anchor and manger Ben Maher kept his 10 year old gelding Explosion W for this round of action, the Knights the first of four teams on a zero score to start today. Ben set off at a gallop with Explosion, taking the inside turn to fence three and daring the chestnut horse to the fences - keeping the momentum throughout. They took an extra stride to the final fence, the delicate vertical and came home clear, and fast. Martin Fuchs made a horse change to top stallion Chaplin, another naturally quick horse. They took a tight turn to the GC vertical roll back, but cleared it with ease, powering to the Longines double. They flew down the final line to finish, clear and the team an impressive 15 seconds faster than closest rivals so far Madrid in Motion. This would heap the pressure on the teams yet to follow - could they better the Knights’ formidable time, or would they crumble under pressure and have a fence.
The Panthers made no change to their line up, with Darragh Kenny first up with Classic Dream. But their hopes of a win today were dashed as the gappy oxer fell, fence five, the team tumbling to a score of 4 faults. Gregory Wathelet kept top stallion Mjt Nevados S, and opted for the outside turns to try help the team stay on their current score and in with a chance of a podium. They delivered, and crucially finished quicker than Madrid In Motion and ahead. Another podium was in sight.
Valkenswaard United badly needed a strong result today, the team keeping their experienced R1 line up of Marcus Ehning with Comme Il Faut and Bertram Allen with Molly Malone V. First up was Marcus with the small but fiery stallion Comme Il Faut, the pair able to make some impressive turns to take the inside lines. With his ears locked on to the fences, the impressive stallion tucked his legs up underneath him, with a gusty gallop to the final fence to finish clear and fast. Bertram Allen and Molly Malone V knew they too would have to deliver a fast clear to be in with a chance of winning today - a high risk tactic should a fence fall. But they came in too deep to the GC Prague Playoffs plank, the pole falling and putting them on 4 faults. Agonisingly they finished with a quicker combined time than the Knights, but would fall behind after their unlucky faults.
Only one team remained, pole sitters the Monaco Aces. With no changes to their line up, Julien Epaillard was first to go with Virtuose Champeix. They had an awkward approach to the third fence, but left it up - clearly looking for a steadier clear today and not chasing the Knights’ time. They kept their end of the bargain, finishing clear and passing the baton to Laura Kraut and Curious George. But it came undone at the double set by the VIP hospitality, the second part falling and dropping the team down to 4 faults. And heartbreakingly their combined time was not quick enough, the team just 9 hundredths of a second behind the Panthers, and off the podium.
The Championship now looks to Monaco, next week, for the 10th leg of the race for the 2019 title.
Duarte Guedes, LGCT Cascais President: "I have two feelings today - I am very glad because it was a nice event, nice public and beautiful sport which is important. I am also proud. Proud to be part of Global Tour. And this weekend there were many other 5 star shows on but you see the riders that are here are the best riders in the world.”
Jan Tops, GCL Co-Founder: "We have been dear friends since the beginning - [Duarte] had a lot of trust in us when I spoke to him in 2005. He is a loyal supporter and he understands sport. He is open to improve the smallest of details and I am very glad with the partnership. In Cannes you think it can’t get any better then Stockholm came and now here. There are lots of new horses coming up and you get to see their amazing jumping. The London Knights had a difficult start it’s how strong they come back - they are fantastic people."
Gregory Wathelet, Paris Panthers, 3rd: "After four teams on clear we knew it was going to be tough, so we were happy with the good result. The season is very long but let’s see if we can hold onto good positions."
Marcus Ehning, Valkenswaard United, 2nd: "The plan was double clear again but [the Knights] were really fast so the pressure was on. We were faster but had a fault - we are happy with second. Our season has been so up and down and with this result we come back strong."
Ben Maher, London Knights, 1st: "It has been a tough start to the season, managing the team - all the decisions I made were the right ones last year while this year not so much. I tried to motivate everyone to bring the right horses to the right venues. Martin made my life easy this weekend. We had to fight back and it was a true test of how strong my team is. We just tried our best. I made a decision to go before Martin today when I normally go second because Explosion has been a bit spooky in this arena with the lights and I knew Martin would be faster than me. I left the door open for Martin to put the pressure on - lucky it gave us a good result."
Martin Fuchs, London Knights, 1st: "Ben and me had the plan to go quick and to put the pressure on - I watched Ben and saw where I could leave out a stride. But still Valkenswaard would have been faster than us - they scared us when they were in the ring. Ben and I are good friends - we talk a lot about the team and we have a really good relationship. It is great to be winning with him especially when he brings Explosion as you feel safe because that pair never knock a pole!"