It was an incredible Longines Global Champions Tour – Longines Paris Eiffel Jumping, which had spectators on the edge of their seats throughout the exhilarating Grand Prix. Legends of the sport Rolf-Göran Bengtsson and Casall ASK showcased a masterful Grand Prix to win Gold ahead of leading French riders, World Number 2 Simon Delestre (FRA) and World Number 4 Pénélope Leprevost (FRA). A five rider jump-off saw the very best athletes in the sport battle it out for the 10th round of the LGCT Championship season, with spectators witnessing a brilliant showcase of top sport and entertainment.
The LGCT Ranking battle has tightened dramatically following the Swedish rider’s win, with Rolf now just 9 points away from current long-term leader Christian Ahlmann (GER) who sits on 209 points overall. There is a nail-biting nine points between the top three, with Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) also impoving her overall points score to sit in third on 197 points overall.
The beautiful VIP lodge was packed with international guests keen to enjoy top sport in the stunning ‘City of Light’. French society was out in force and mingling with guests including Bruce Springsteen, Salma Hayek and her husband luxury tycoon Francois Pinault and business leaders from across the world. It was a glittering night with gourmet cuisine and a luxury interior courtesy of Bentley and Fendi.
It was a first round of all weathers as the 47 world class riders took to the sand arena for the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Paris. Kicking off in brilliant sunshine, the early riders took their chance to earn a place in round two, with Uliano Vezzani’s course a true test for the top combinations in the world. Many of the fences were set at the maximum 1 meter 60 testing the horses’ power and agility.
First to go clear was third starter Georgina Bloomberg (USA) with her stunning mare Lilli, with the pair showcasing a masterful round throughout the tricky course. Hot on her heels was compatriot Jessica Springsteen (USA), Mathieu Billot (FRA) and Bassem Hassan Mohammad (QAT) followed before the test became that much harder. It was young German talent Philip Houston (GER) who was the initial pace setter, fourteenth to go, and jumping clear in an impressive 75.96s with his grey 13 year old gelding Loewenherz – throwing down the gauntlet to the rest of the field, many of whom have multiple Olympic medals under their belts.
As Lauren Hough (USA) entered the ring with Oh la la the heavens opened, with heavy rain persisting for the next few riders. Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) with VDL Groep Arera C, Pius Schwizer (SUI) with PSG Future, Ludger Beerbaum (GER) with Chaman, Laura Renwick (GBR) with Bingtang II and home rider Kevin Staut (FRA) with For Joy van’t Zorgvliet HDC were all caught out, clipping poles and eliminating themselves from the second round. Dedicated fans braved a heavy downpour to stay in the grandstands for the sporting action following their French heroes and heroines in the show jumping arena
14 riders in total jumped clear, with the top 18 going through to round two. Philip Houston (GER) and Loewenherz 81, Harold Boisset (FRA) with Quolita Z, Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) with Caretina de Joter, Jane Richard Philips (SUI) with Dieudonne de Guldenboom, Jessica Springsteen (USA) with Cynar V, Scott Brash (GBR) with Ursula XII, Cedric Angot (FRA) with Saxo de la Cour, Georgina Bloomberg (USA) with Lilli, Abdelkebir Ouaddar (MAR) with Quickly de Kreisker, Simon Delestre (FRA) with Hermes Ryan, Mathieu Billot (FRA) with Shiva d’Amaury, Pénélope Leprevost (FRA) with Vagabond de la Pomme, Bassem Hassan Mohammed (QAT) with Dejavu and Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (SWE) with Casall ASK all went through to round two clear.
Joining them would be Daniel Bluman (COL) Apardi, Harrie Smolders (NED) with Don Vhp Z, Kevin Staut (FRA) with For Joy van’t Zorgvliet HDC and Leopold van Asten with VDL Groep Zidane N.O.P. all through on four faults.
The second round was a big course, but very jumpable, with the all-weather surface holding up beautifully as the sun continued to shine. The French riders had been on form all weekend, winning every class so far, and they maintained their streak of success in-front of family and friends, as three French riders again made the 2nd round course look easy to post double clears and set up a jump off along with Scott Brash (GBR), Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (SWE) & Bassem Hassan Mohammad (QAT).
The crowds in the stands were in for a thrilling conclusion whilst VIPs watched on as the 5 horse jump-off got underway. First to go Bassem Hassan Mohammed (QAT) jumped clear again, setting the benchmark at 41.33s. However next to go Pénélope Leprevost (FRA) soon smashed his time with Vagabond de la Pomme, spurred on by the crowd and crossing the line in a spectacular 39.12s. Next up was leading home rider Simon Delestre (FRA) who entered the ring to the cheers of the crowd and set off at a blistering pace with Hermes Ryan, the smaller dark chestnut gelding racing to the fences with an unbelievably quick gallop to the last. They pipped Pénélope to the post, stopping the clocks in 39.02s as the crowd roared in approval in support of their leading home rider.
Last to enter were Rolf-Göran Bengtsson and the formidable 17 year old stallion Casall ASK. Simon’s time looked impossible to beat, but Rolf carefully managed Casall’s enthusiasm, opening up the stallion to allow his bigger strides to eat up the ground, riding at unbelievable angles to shave of valuable time and crossing the line in 38.50s, half a second quicker than the flying Frenchman.
Casall ASK is surely the most consistent Grand Prix horse there’s ever been – this his 3rd podium finish this year and remarkably his 7th career Grand Prix win on the Tour where he’s amassed over 1.5million euros in prize money so far.
The win moved the Swedish Olympian one place up the leaderboard on the overall LGCT Rankings and into 2nd, crucially cutting the lead held by Germany’s Christian Ahlmann (GER) to sit just 9 points behind. Edwina Tops Alexander (AUS) has moved to third in the Rankings but the top three are now separated by just twelve points. The Tour now heads south and to Estoril in Portugal, and with just five legs remaining on this year’s spectacular calendar, every point counts as the Championship moves into the final third of the 2016 season.
Jan Tops, Founder and President Longines Global Champions Tour: “It is amazing – [the Championship Ranking] is only a few points apart. Rolf has one less score than Christian but we still have five legs, so anything can happen. This kind of series is very special. Only the really good ones can be consistent to stay on top. Who wins this series is like the world champion in our sport.”
Virginie Coupérie-Eiffel, President Longines Paris Eiffel Jumping: “The weather was very complicated. Uliano again did his magic and created magnificent rounds and a fabulous jump off. Congratulations to Rolf he is a great champion. Of course I would like to have heard the Marseillaise!”
Rolf-Göran Bengtsson, LGCT Grand Prix of Paris winner: “It is a fantastic series and it is something special to get on the podium in Doha in the final. I won the show there in Doha but was second two times (in the championship). Casall is 17 years old now, so could be his last season – every show I can go with him and win a class like a GCT class is very special. It was a fantastic crowd and they stayed in the rain.”
Simon Delestre, LGCT Grand Prix of Paris Silver Medallist: “Ryan is very fast and from the very beginning I set out to jump fast. In the end Rolf beat me on the really tight turn he did on the vertcal but I was very pleased with tonight and it’s just before Rio so it’s a good result.”
Pénélope Leprevost, LGCT Grand Prix of Paris Bronze Medallist: “I was second to go I did my best. I was just behind Simon and I am happy tonight.”
Christian Ahlmann, LGCT Ranking Leader: “I tried my best. Caribis Z is a very young horse. I hope next week to go a step further. It is getting closer and closer. It is getting really tight now. I need to get the reins a bit shorter and get some more points.”
Photos: Stefano Grasso/LGCT