London Knights in pole position in their quest to defend title on home turf
Photo: GCL / Stefano Grasso
The London Knights catapulted themselves into the best position possible on home turf in London today after Ben Maher and Olivier Philippaerts pulled off flawless performances.
With their two top horses, Explosion W and H&M Extra, the pair wowed the crowds, setting themselves up to repeat their victory of 2018 at the beautiful Royal Hospital Chelsea. Only four teams managed a double clear today, with Valkenswaard United, St Tropez Pirates and current ranking leaders Miami Celtics hot on the heels of the Knights.
Ben Maher praised his top horse Explosion W, with the chestnut gelding producing yet another clear for the team: "He jumped great. He felt good, he felt fresh, so we’ll have to have a talk after this and see what the plans are for tomorrow. But the team’s in top position; we are last to go tomorrow. We did everything we could today, so hopefully it continues. I hope we’re standing here tomorrow.”
Olivier Philippaerts explained that they would still have plenty to do however to achieve that goal: “The best teams, for the moment, are still up front, so clear rounds today was not enough; tomorrow we have to do the same to move up the spots. I think Miami [Celtics] and St Tropez Pirates [are ones to watch] - for sure they have good teams here and they’ll be ready to win tomorrow.”
The first day of competition in the heart of London kicked off under blue skies and perfect conditions. Fans enjoyed the shopping village and lined up for selfies with the Brooke charity’s mini stars Lala and Alfie, the miniature pony and donkey.
TV personality Rory Bremner, who is also a supporter of Brooke, urged visitors to the event to visit their stand and help the fundraising effort of the equine welfare charity. He also joined the GCTV live studio and spoke of the special venue: "That’s the genius of the Global Champions Tour - you get the best horses, the best riders and the best locations in the world, like here. I’m so into it, I even watch the tractors go round!”
TV Presenter Clare Balding was among guests at the show and said: “It’s perfect, a perfect location. Taking show jumping into the major cities means so many more people get the chance to watch it. I can sit and watch Ben Maher and Scott Brash ride all day long. Getting to just watch it as a fan is very nice. Genuinely I look at the rota for GCT and if I was 20 and starting again it is what I would want to be doing Global Champions Tour. It is perfect taking it to all these really glamorous locations, the standard of the horses is really high and I think it is a very modern way of doing a very traditional sport." Several hundered international guests joined the first day of the London leg of the global circuit inculding Bruce and Patti Springsteen.
Alan Wade built a testing first track for the 14th round of competition in the 2019 GCL Championship, with many of the fences featuring typically British depictions, including a London Underground double, a Big Ben vertical and a colourful London-etched plank. The biggest troublemaker for the horse and rider combinations however was a light, long-striding treble, the second element - a broad oxer - tumbling time and time again. The final fence - a Longines vertical - also caused heartache for many, as they pushed to finish clear and within the time allowed.
Here’s how the action unfolded…
First to take on the track was Simon Delestre of the Giants, bringing out his scopey 10 year old grey gelding Filou Carlo Zimequest. They rocketed around the arena, the horse with springs in his heels, to bring home the first clear of the day and in a phenomenally quick time. Teammate Mathilda Karlsson brought out her bay 10 year old stallion Chopin VA, but they opted for a steadier pace. The front rail of the penultimate GCL oxer fell, and a costly time fault would put the Giants on a team total of 5.
Steely in her sunglasses, Malin Baryard-Johnsson was first to take up the reins for the Berlin Eagles with her superstar mare H&M Indiana - the bay 11 year old bringing home four double clears so far this season. The pair took a huge leap through the London Underground double, but left the fences up, cruising around to the finish to bring home yet another clear for the team. Under-25 Danish rider Emil Hallundbaek was next to go with his gelding Chalisco, hoping to keep the team clear. But there was drama at the second fence after Chalisco put the brakes on. Hallundbaek would have to work hard to not get another refusal and cause the team to be eliminated. But the young rider pulled out all the stops to finish clear - giving them 8 overall.
Olivier Philippaerts was the first for the home city team the London Knights, his scarlet coat matching that of the watching Chelsea Pensioners. Philippaerts brought out his top horse H&M Extra, and looked to be going for a steadier clear. Their tactic paid off, and they came home with a clean sheet, passing the baton to experienced teammate and team manager Ben Maher. He brought out his top horse Explosion W, and the duo looked on flying form, crossing the finish line to a raucous applause from the crowd. The Knights would be the first to finish with a double clear, putting them in a strong position for tomorrow’s showdown.
Michael Whitaker was looking to perform well on home soil, with his fiery grey mare For Fun looking keen and enthusiastic in the arena. But there was heartache as the final fence fell, the Longines vertical just tumbling after For Fun clipped it with her hind legs. Jur Vrieling was next to go, his bay gelding Davall his choice of ride for this round of competition. But another fence added to their woes, the Falcons finishing on 8 overall.
Under-25 rider Kim Emmen kept the powerful Delvaux under control, but the front rail of the oxer in the red and gold treble tumbled and the team would drop to 4 faults. Shane Sweetnam and Alejandro set off at a pace, hoping to make up time on Emmen’s slower round. Knowing they had to stay in touch with the London Knights, Sweetnam pushed on but the first part of the London Underground double fell and the team would drop to a score of 8.
Team anchor Marcus Ehning was first to take on the track with Cristy, and the pair attacked the course with gusto. Ehning took the inside lines, keeping the flow and rhythm to give the bay mare the best chance possible of jumping clear. They delivered with Alberto Zorzi and Danique next to go. They too kept it clean, bringing home a double clear for the team today, but just behind the Knights on time.
The Vikings were out for victory, with Evelina Tovek and Winnetou de la Hamente Z setting off with determination. But a fence down ruled out their chance of a clean sheet today, with the pressure on teammate Christian Ahlmann to deliver the goods and keep the team in touch. With his big-striding mare Ciao Conni ST, Ahlmann produced smooth turns to meet his distances perfectly. But the final Longines vertical fell after Ahlmann checked to add in a stride, leaving the pair too far off to make the jump. The team would drop to a score of 8.
Madrid in Motion
Mark McAuley picked up a disappointing 8 faults with his experienced 15 year old gelding Miebello - the first Beefeater-flanked oxer and the Big Ben vertical tumbling. Eduardo Alvarez Aznar and Seringat had everything to do to keep the team in the running, and they pulled it out of the hat - finishing clear and keeping the team on 8.
New York Empire
Watched on by team owner and teammate Georgina Bloomberg, Denis Lynch and GC Chopin’s Bushi went for the wider turns to give themselves as much chance as possible to finish clear. But the 13 year old gelding just froze in the air over the penultimate fence - the GCL oxer and picking up 4 faults for the team. Scott Brash and Hello Mr President - last year’s LGCT Grand Prix of London winning combination - were next to go, the 10 year old horse flying over the course. They had a sticky moment at the liverpool-lined oxer, but flew home to finish clear to the roar of the fans, and in the fastest time of all so far. The team would finish with a fast 4 faults.
Eric Lamaze brought out the 9 year old chestnut Firkov du Rouet for the first time in the season Championship and dared the powerful horse to the fences. They flew to finish clear, passing the reins to Karel Cox and Icarus. But two parts of the treble tumbled and another fence added to their troubles, the team finishing on 12 today.
Current ranking leaders Miami Celtics fielded Jessica Springsteen and Harry Charles for this round of action, hoping to extend their lead over the rest of the teams. Watched on by father Bruce Springsteen in the VIP hospitality, first to go Jessica set off with RMF Zecilie, and the pair were foot-perfect, finishing clear for the Celtics. Under-25 rider Harry Charles - who made an impressive Tour debut at this show in 2018 - brought out his top horse ABC Quantum Cruise. The horse became a little strong towards the end of the course, but they kept it together, finishing with a double clear and keeping the Celtics in with a chance of a podium tomorrow.
Team owner and manager Jennifer Gates was first to take up the challenge with her 10 year old gelding Monaco. But the back rail of the oxer in the red and gold treble fell, as did the painted horse plank to put the team on a score of 8. Watched on by teammate Harrie Smolders and team manager Rob Hoesktra, Darragh Kenny was next to go with Balou du Reventon, the pair looking on form and making a beautiful turn to the Big Ben vertical. They were flawless, and pulled off a blisteringly fast clear to keep the team fastest of the 8 faulters.
St Tropez Pirates
Edwina Tops-Alexander gave Casquell his first appearance for the St Tropez Pirates, and the 9 year old gelding delivered the goods - pulling off a sublime clear to keep the team in with a chance. Pieter Devos brought out his 10 year old chestnut Jade vd Bisschop, and looked to be following team tactics to produce a steady clear today. The pressure was on, but they delivered, teammate Athina Onassis applauding as the team finished round 1 on a faultless zero score.
With British Olympic Gold Medallist Nick Skelton watching on, Laura Kraut was first to go for the Monaco Aces - her 10 year old bay mare Fleurette her choice of ride for today’s competition. But the middle part of the tricky treble combination came down, and then the GCL oxer tumbled, the team dropping to a score of 8. Julien Epaillard knew only a clear would keep them in with a chance of glory tomorrow, bringing out his 11 year mare Queeletta. The normally speedy duo opted for a steadier pace, with a clear obviously on their minds. And it worked, finishing just inside the time allowed to keep the team on their score of 8.
The experienced Roger-Yves Bost brought out Castleforbes Vladimir for this first round in London, the eye-catching strawberry roan turning heads with his unusual looks. Bost had to work hard, but the treble claimed yet another victim to put the Pegasus team on a score of 4. New signing for the team Francois Mathy Jr rode Casanova de l’Herse, the impressive grey stallion clearing the fences with plenty of air. But the first part of the London Underground double fell, and the team would finish today on the large group of those on 8 overall.
There was drama for the final team to go as a miscommunication between Marco Kutscher and his horse Chades of Blue coming into the liverpool-lined oxer meant they had to pull up in front of the jump. A costly four faults for the refusal and a further three time faults would put the Lions on 7 overall. Niels Bruynseels faced down enormous pressure with Delux van T&L, drawing a few gasps from the crowd as they flew over the fences. They produced the clear, keeping the team just ahead on a score of 7 overall.