Cannes rolled out the red carpet for Saturday night’s Grand Prix at the Longines Global Champions Tour with all the sparkle associated with the iconic city on the French Riviera. Spain’s Sergio Alvarez Moya (ESP) and his 12-year-old bay gelding Arrayan took their first LGCT win in spectacular style, while Harrie Smolders (NED) rocketed to the top of LGCT Rankings as the battle for the Championship ratchets up a gear.
“Grand Prix are so hard to win. There were so many riders in the jump off today, but it turned out to be fantastic, especially for me.” Moya said, “I know my horse is very fast and flat over the jumps, and has a huge stride, so it was very hard for them to catch me. I didn’t have to fight much with him and he jumped his best. I couldn’t be happier.”
In the overall rankings, Harrie Smolders’ consistent results have seen him overtake long-term leader Lorenzo de Luca (ITA), after the Italian had a shock result in the qualifier, failing to make the Grand Prix. Harrie now has 150 points overall, with Lorenzo just 17 points behind on 133 overall. Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) keeps hold of his third place, with a tally of 124 points as the fight for the Championship race intensifies.
There was fizz in the spectator’s glasses and in the atmosphere this evening, as the sixth leg of the 2017 calendar kicked off a stone’s throw from the world famous La Croisette. Uliano Vezzani (ITA) created a sweeping course of big fences that were beautifully positioned around the arena to test both scope and speed. The track included a tricky triple combination with a short jump out and full height planks on flat cups. His prediction of ten jump-off riders proved to be spot on after the first-round time was extended to 86 seconds.
It was not to be a fairy tale double for last year’s Cannes Grand Prix winners Scott Brash (GBR) and Hello Forever. The crowd favourites had four down in the earlier team competition – finishing on an uncharacteristic 16 faults, which pushed Miami Glory into ninth place and meant that they failed to qualify. A total of 24 riders went through to the Grand Prix after top qualifier Carlos Lopez (COL) pulled out.
As the sun gave way to stars, and the lights came on around the beautiful arena, Cannes debutant Nayel Nassar (EGY) was the first rider to take centre stage. He got off to a dancing start on Hija van Strokapelleken, but it was the rising combination’s fourth course of the weekend and they finished on 12 faults.
The first clear came from the third rider of the night Daniel Deusser (GER) on 10-year-old SX Hidalgo V. It was quickly followed by Evelina Tovek (SWE) on Castello just two riders later. Alberto Zorzi (ITA), Eric Van der Vleuten (NED), Sergio Alvarez Moya (ESP), Christian Ahlmann (GER), Harrie Smolders (NED), Simon Delestre (FRA), Olivier Philippaerts (BEL) and two-time Cannes Grand Prix champion Roger-Yves Bost (FRA) followed suit.
Philipe Rozier (FRA), the poster boy for the Cannes leg of the Tour, had the full support of the stadium and loud cheers erupted as he entered the arena. Unfortunately, the home town advantage did not translate into a clear round for the Olympic gold medallist, as Quartz Rouge took out the front rail of the oxer and incurred a time penalty to finish on five faults.
It was also not a good night for Ireland’s Denis Lynch (IRL) and his big, flexible power jumper All Star 5. Lynch took the wrong course and was eliminated proving that even the best riders in the world make the occasional mistake. Longines Ambassador of Elegance Jane Richard Phillips (SUI) took the difficult decision to retire on Dieudonne de Guldenboom after they had two early fences down.
A packed house watched the night’s finale from every vantage point with a glass of champagne or a chilled glass of Rose. The Mayor of Cannes, David Lisnard, watched over the great sporting event, which is made possible by the city’s full support and is a big part of the local community.
So it was a total of 10 riders who made it through to the jump-off with Daniel Deusser (GER) leading the way on SX Hidalgo v. The course featured tight turn backs and real rocket runs, with Daniel the master of both. It needed scope and a big stride with large verticals spread across the arena and a long run to a big oxer. Smoothly efficient and brilliantly balanced, the pair put the pressure on the riders to come, with the time to beat set at 37.63s.
Young Swedish star Evelina Tovek (SWE) kept together an artful round with her dapple grey Castello jumping neatly around the course. The pair looked strong until they pushed to the last, crashing through the final fence to the gasp of the crowd to collect four faults – still an impressive effort for the rising talent.
Alberto Zorzi (ITA) took a tighter approach to the double, drawing gasps from the crowd as he bravely tried to better the German’s time. A new mount for the Italian meant he wasn’t pushing quite as hard as normal, and the pair stopped the clock in 38.30s. Eric van der Vleuten (NED) went for a steadier approach, aiming for a clear with Wunschkind 19. Riding a solid round in 43.84s, the duo jumped clear, hoping many of the others would be pressured into having poles down.
Setting off at a sprint start was the fiery Spaniard Sergio Alvarez Moya (ESP) with Arrayan who rocketed around the course to shave off a second and a half from Daniel’s time. The crowd gasped as the duo took brave chances, steeplechasing their way through the course and with the small horse jumping his heart out for Sergio to stop the clock in 35.76s.
As anticipation mounted, Christian Ahlmann (GER) and the eye-catching stallion Colorit put in a brave try, but got their striding wrong into the double, taking out a pole as they pushed to better the time set. Harrie Smolders (NED) set off at a charge with Emerald, with the pair looking strong until the Longines combination. A last minute shock refusal from the established stallion put them out of contention, but Harrie calmly finished the course to settle the stallion, with the Championship fight in mind.
Silence fell as Simon Delestre (FRA) and Hermes Ryan entered the ring. Unrelenting in pace, the popular duo gave their all, with Simon taking out strides and turning the agile little horse perfectly to save time. A slight slip caught them off balance, but they picked themselves up, galloping to the last as the crowd roared their encouragement. But it wasn’t enough, with the pair slipping behind in 36.70s.
A pole for Olivier Philippaerts and H&M Legend of Love knocked them out of contention, and so it was all down to the final, local rider to see if the Spaniard could be beaten. If there had been a roof it would have been raised as Roger-Yves Bost (FRA) entered with Sydney une Prince, looking serious for the win. Despite their valiant effort clipped a pole, collecting four faults and handing the lead to Sergio.
The Spanish star was joined on the podium by home rider Simon, with Daniel making up the final place in third. Next stop on the Tour is Monaco, for the seventh round on the 15-event Championship, which kicks off from the 23rd – 25th June.
Jan Tops, President and Founder Longines Global Champions Tour: “It’s very special here – the whole region is special. Having a show like this, the people are so enthusiastic. We’ve ended up with three great riders on the podium. The course was fantastic, Uliano did a great job – for us it’s important, as riders and owners, that our horses can keep jumping these great tracks every week, and that’s important with what Uliano builds. The ground was fantastic.
“The Championship is close. Harrie is climbing to the top. It’s difficult to say at the moment, the first seven to eight riders could end up winning. Harrie, Lorenzo and Maikel have had a great start, they’ve made their mark and it’s going to be very exciting.”
Francois Bourey, President Jumping Cannes: “That was really a super Grand Prix and jump-off. To get 10 riders for the jump-off, with a full grandstand, it was perfect. We are very lucky, as for the past 10 years, with Uliano – every time we’re very successful. It’s something very special this year – the City of Cannes will do a lot of work on the venue, which starts on the 1st of July and I hope when you come back for next year there will be many changes and we will be proud to welcome everyone to a new stadium. For me to be part of the Global Champions Tour is very important, and I hope we have a long, long time together. I will never forget the very beginning, we started a little bit here in Cannes so there is a lot of emotion for me. The winner has been absolutely fantastic tonight.”
Sergio Alvarez Moya, LGCT Cannes winner: “This is my best year so far. I have a big group of horses – I would like to say thank you to my owners and the people who really support me. I don’t think I could have had a better jump-off; I saw Daniel’s round and he was really fast. I know my horse is flat and fast over the jumps but he’s not turning very good. Luckily today I had every good turn, I could push and I didn’t have to pull too much, so when I came out of the ring I knew there were a few fast ones coming, but that they’d have to work hard for it.
“I’ve had Arrayan a year. He’s such an enthusiastic horse – sometimes a little bit strong to ride! Just before the class G&C Farm bought him, so I’m super happy. It couldn’t be a better beginning together.”
Simon Delestre, LGCT Cannes 2nd place: “Sergio was really fast today, but I have to say well done to Uliano for a fantastic job. For me it was really something special as it was Ryan’s at his best level since his injury in Rio, so it’s fantastic to have him back. He’s really fit now, and I hope he’s really ready for the season.”
Daniel Deusser, LGCT Cannes 3rd place: “On Thursday [my horse] was very spooky under the lights, and finished with 14 faults, which is why we changed riders for the GCL. Today he recovered a little bit and did much better, jumping a clear here and I was very happy with him. Going first in the jump-off – I was very happy with my jump-off, I could not have gone any better today, and I’m very happy with my third place.”
Harrie Smolders, LGCT Ranking Leader: “My strength is in my horses. I have two with Emerald and Don, who jump everywhere clean rounds, so I’m in a very good position thanks to my owners Copernicus and Eurohorse stables that they put me in this position. I’ve one result more than the others, but it’s still a long way to go. In the end the key word will be consistency, and to be in the second round also, which is not so easy.”
Photo: LGCT/ Stefano Grasso