London Knights Charge to Ranking Lead with Spectacular Home Win
Photo: GCL / Stefano Grasso
In a breathtaking display of top sport, the London Knights duo of Ben Maher and Olivier Philippaerts charged to the team's fourth win of the Championship, taking victory on home turf to slingshot themselves into the overall ranking lead.
With Maher's mighty Explosion W and Philippaerts’ H&M Extra, the Knights produced a flawless performance at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, repeating their win of 2018 in front of a sell-out crowd.
Flanked by members of the Household Cavalry mounted on their gleaming black chargers, and escorted by the crimson-coated Chelsea Pensioners, the top three teams entered the arena to rapturous applause - London Knights leading Valkenswaard United’s Marcus Ehning and Bertram Allen, and New York Empire’s Scott Brash and Denis Lynch taking third.
Speaking after their win, Olivier Philippaerts said: "I didn’t see the rest go, but I knew my horse well and took my time. It really worked out well today. It was amazing in front of a home crowd, so to pull it off was really amazing."
Ben Maher spoke of the fantastic atmosphere in the arena: “[Explosion] was incredible again today. Olivier’s horse is not the fastest, so I knew I’d have to go around three or four seconds faster than everyone else. It’s amazing as last to go with this crowd. We’ve been working hard all season, and we’re hopefully gaining momentum. This location in the centre of London is amazing, the support the show's getting is incredible and it’s great to see everyone coming back year on year.”
Alan Wade set a technical track with the colourful fences depicting many London icons. A London Underground treble was a tricky challenge for the world’s top horses and riders, and a Beefeater flanked oxer gave the equestrian stars something to look at, and a delicate Tennor vertical as well as a formidable Longines combination.
Here’s how the action unfolded…
The Eagles opted for a rider change, bringing star striker Christian Kukuk off the bench with Limonchello NT in place of Malin Baryard-Johnsson. U25 rider Emil Hallundbaek brought back Chalisco, with the pair keen to improve on their 8 faults from yesterday. With a remarkable 8 teams on 8 faults, a single rail could make the difference of a huge number of places and completely mix up the order. The pair absolutely flew around the arena, but had a wobble down the final line, Hallundbaek almost unseated upon landing. They kept it together but the final fence fell, another 4 faults added to their score. Christian Kukuk was next to go, the blue-eyed stallion covering the ground in a slower tempo. They too had a moment in the final line, but managed to finish clear - the team would stay on 12 faults overall.
Evelina Tovek kept her mount Winnetou de la Hamente Z for this round of competition, and the team tactics paid off, the duo delivering the much needed clear. Christian Ahlmann made a strategic horse change to his top stallion, the dapple grey Clintrexo Z powering around the arena and responding beautifully to Christian’s requests. They finished clear, with 8 faults this weekend.
The Aces also made a rider change, with Jos Verlooy stepping up for the team in place of Laura Kraut today. With his 11 year old gelding Igor, they attacked the course, but the Longines plank fell as Igor fought for his head, the team on a score of 12 so far. Julien Epaillard kept Queeletta for this round of action, but the middle element of the London Underground treble fell - the team would plummet behind the Eagles with their score of 16.
The Shanghai Swans fielded the same horse and rider combinations in the opening round. In first, Kim Emmen and Delvaux had a miscommunication just before crossing the start line, but then circled, regrouped and started confidently. Some clever riding kept the triple combination up despite Delvaux getting strong towards the end of the course. They remained clear, so it was up to Shane Sweetnam and Alejandro to try to replicate. They survived a rub at the triple to finish on four faults after the second part of the double, the penultimate fence, fell. The team finished on 12 penalties.
The Falcons too made no horse or rider change, with Michael Whitaker first to fly for the team with For Fun. They had a moment before the GCL oxer, rattling the top rail. But a fence fell, and they would pick up 4 faults. Jur Vrieling gave it his best shot with Davall, but they too had a pole - the team would fall to 20 faults and out of a chance of podium this weekend.
Madrid In Motion
Mark McAuley brought out his 10 year old bay gelding Valentino Tuiliere and the pair attacked the course at a phenomenal pace. A stretch too far over the London liverpool-lined oxer saw the back rail come down, with the team falling to 12 faults so far. Eduardo Alvarez Aznar also swapped to his top horse Rokfeller de Pleville Bois Margot, the 14 year old gelding always consistent in the crucial moments. The team was left on a total of 12.
Roger Yves-Bost made a horse change, using Sangria Du Coty for the first time. They clipped the back rail of the London Olympic fence which tumbled, and when the vertical coming out of the double at the penultimate fence also fell, he was left on a disappointing 8. The team’s woes continued when Francois Jr Mathy and Uno De La Roque took out the third part of the triple, leaving the team languishing on 24 faults.
Harrie Smolders, the lynchpin of Paris Panthers, rode a beautifully judged clear round on Cas to give the team the best possible chance. The second rider, Darragh Kenny chose a speedy pace on Balou Du Reventon and then put his foot on the gas even more two thirds of the way through the course to record the fastest clear yet of 65.4 seconds. The team remained on 8 after the two classy clears and went to the top of the leaderboard.
Simon Delestre was clearly riding with time in mind on Hermes Ryan, pushing the 14 year old gelding at all the right moments. Their clear in 66.21 left the team in touching distance of the top of the leaderboard, provided Mathilda Karlsson could conjure a clear from Chopin VA. Unfortunately the final fence fell, and the pair picked up a time fault as the rider shook her head. Their team total of 10 put them into third place provisionally.
New York Empire
Denis Lynch was first to go for the New York Empire, bringing back the high flying GC Chopin’s Bushi. With Georgina Bloomberg watching on from the kiss n’ cry, they delivered the clear, putting the pressure on the shoulders of teammate Scott Brash. He opted to ride top mare Hello M’Lady, the 13 year old horse flicking her tail over the fences. They delivered the clear for the team, with the arena erupting in applause. They stayed on 4 faults and took over the lead.
With Bruce Springsteen watching on, Jessica Springsteen was the first to take on the challenge for the Miami Celtics. The tricky penultimate combination came down for Springsteen and RMF Zecilie, and a time fault to add would see the team tumble to a score of 5 - crucially behind the New York Empire. Next to go Harry Charles brought back his top horse ABC Quantum Cruise, and they pulled a clear out of the bag, keeping the team on their score of 5.
St Tropez Pirates
Edwina Tops-Alexander piloted her 10 year old chestnut gelding Casquell and the pair looked on song until the final fence tumbled, the team dropping to a score of 4 faults. Pieter Devos brought out his top horse Claire Z, the strategic change a sign the Pirates meant business. They kept the pace steady, their tactics clearly to leave all the poles up, and they finished with no faults - but crucially slower than New York Empire.
The Prague Lions jumped out of place after a thrown shoe in the warm up, but they didn’t start well as Marco Kutscher and Chades of Blue had an early pole. Niels Bruynseels rode Jenson van't Meulenhof, the stallion scopey over the obstacles, and they produced the clear, the team finishing with 11 faults overall.
Valkenswaard United made one of the biggest changes, with Bertram Allen brought off the bench for this round of action. First to go however was Marcus Ehning, who kept his ride of Cristy today. They rocketed around the arena, but the middle element of the London Underground treble came down - putting the team onto 4 faults and raising the pressure for Allen. With GK Casper, Allen knew only a speedy clear could keep them in with a chance of the win today. They kept cool heads under pressure, the pair delivering a blisteringly fast round to finish faster than New York Empire and take the provisional lead.
Final team to go, the London Knights, were greeted to a roar from the crowd - all waving their flags and cheering the home city team. The hot favourites chose not to make any horse or rider changes, with Olivier Philippaerts first to go with H&M Extra. They kept a steady pace, and it paid off, the pair finishing clear much to the delight of the crowd, with Philippaerts punching the air in delight. Final rider Ben Maher had the weight of expectation on his shoulders, but looked calm and focused as he entered with the mighty 10 year old chestnut gelding Explosion W. They too kept a steady pace, with Maher carefully guiding his keen horse around the track. They crossed the finish line clear, the crowds roaring their approval as Maher brought home the win for the team - a carbon copy of their victory in 2018.
The Championship now looks to Valkenswaard, The Netherlands, for the 15th round of action in the race for supremecy.
Jan Tops, GCL Co-Founder; "I think the format we have now is right; you never know for the future, but at the moment it’s easy to follow and people understand it. The public know the teams, the riders — and even their music — which makes it easy to understand, and that was the aim. The course builder was brilliant and created a lot of excitement. Only one team jumped totally clear and that shows how high class the level was.
"Today we were sold out to the public; our staff have worked very hard to make the event special. We have lots of shows back-to-back and we have high expectations for each event. It was amazing sport here in at the Royal Hospital Chelsea and we're very pleased with today.
"The London Knights were very strong; there are still four events left, but I think they are the favourite at the moment. In the rankings, everything is very close, so New York is going to be very exciting."
Georgina Bloomberg, New York Empire: "The boys were wonderful today. We can always depend on Scott to produce the clears, but Denis was a little worried about jumping clear today. But he pulled through and performed amazingly. It was an exciting finish and we had great day today. It was a rough start to the season, but things are looking up. [Govenors Island for the debut New York event] is a wonderful location and it's going to be a beautiful setting - we're going to come out strong [as New York Empire]. Being half English this is sort of like a home leg for me as well, but it's really exciting to be able to finish off the season in New York."
Bertram Allen, Valkenswaard United: "Marcus had a good round today; he had a very unlucky pole. We were both quite fast and our plan was to ride a competitive round to put as much pressure on London Knights as possible. But they were on two fantastic horses and they deserved to win. We had rough start to the season — it hasn’t really been our year, but we'll try to finish off well and now we'll focus on Prague."
Olivier Philippaerts, London Knights: "I wasn't the quickest today but I know my horse under control would always leave the jumps up. We had a good first day so today we knew we just had to go clear. I wanted to jump my own round and it turned out to be a beautiful day."
Ben Maher, London Knights: "[Explosion] is just incredible, I didn’t use him too much early on in the season as there are lots of shows to come. We have picked up momentum and as I rode in I was trying to do a calculation in my head about how fast I needed to go. Luckily we left them all up and Olivier jumped an incredible double clear this weekend. We could have easily been left in third or fourth today. We had a couple of shows where it didn’t go to plan, but sometimes it is meant to be and Olivier is a brilliant team member to have. We are where we need to be in the latter part of the season. We will be putting pretty strong teams out for the last few shows, so we'll try to stay motivated as a team."