Valkenswaard United’s formidable duo of John Whitaker (GBR) and Bertram Allen (IRL) rocketed up the Global Champions League team rankings after a stunning win today in Hamburg. This was the first time two teams finished on a score of zero and the temperature rose as the riders’ combined time came into play to determine the final order providing a fascinating nail-biting finish to the 1.55m two round competition. Valkenswaard United now sit on 130 points overall, with Monaco Aces on 119 points and Antwerp Diamonds close behind on 116 points overall.
A third of the way through the season and the stakes have been raised with team rivalry growing ever stronger. Today’s winner John Whitaker threw down the gauntlet to the other teams, stating: “We’re a good team and we’re going to keep the pressure on!”
The level of competition has moved up a gear, with riders consistently bringing top horses in the new team competition format. This weekend Bertram Allen brought his 2015 LGCT Grand Prix of Paris winning horse, the experienced 18 year old chestnut Romanov, specifically for this event. In the press conference following his win, he spoke about the high calibre of competition on the League, saying: “I knew I had to bring a good horse. I brought [Romanov] here for one class and he delivered, so it worked a treat for me.”
Twelve teams lined up for the second European leg of the Championship, as eager fans packed the arena to catch their first up close glimpse of the bright coloured shirts and revolutionary new format. During the day VIPs and guests, including record-breaking tennis ace Steffi Graf attended the event. As the teams took to the arena, thousands cheered on the teams, dancing to the individual theme tunes and clapping along as the riders entered the ring. The first round course turned into a game of speed as riders from the majority of the team riders went clear. Four faults caused serious drops in the order, and with three teams – Valkenswaard United, Paris Jets and Antwerp Diamonds – on zero faults, the pressure was on as eight teams progressed to round two.
Miami Glory, Madrid in Motion, Doha Fursan Qatar and last weekend’s winners the Cacais Charms were those who suffered the most, dropping out of the qualifying zone and unable to progress through to round two.
The Monaco Aces were first to go, with four faults and the slowest time in round one putting them lowest in the order. However a stunning double clear in an impressive time from Daniel Bluman and Conconcreto Apardi, and a speedy second round from Schuyler Riley with Dobra de Porceyo placed them high up the grid, ultimately finishing in fourth. Marlon Módolo Zanotelli was first in for the Rome Gladiators, with Valetto JX, and delivered a fast clear round. Laura Kraut delivered a careful double clear with her relatively young grey gelding Confu, pushing the team up to third overall.
Antwerp Diamonds combination of Audrey Coulter with Alex and Harrie Smolders with Bokai jumped double clear, finishing on a combined time of 153.92s. Harrie has been the most consistent rider on the League so far, jumping every round he’s competed in clear with the beautiful grey horse. Bertram Allen knew he had everything to do as the final rider who could change the top podium position. With a full six seconds to make up, and the pressure of jumping clear, Bertram took on the challenge, and in typical style stole the show with a phenomenal round on his horse Romanov. The pair finished in a combined 150.29s, taking the gold medal for the Global Champions League of Hamburg.
The League now turns to Madrid, where home team Madrid in Motion will be looking for a strong result on home turf.
Jan Tops, Co-Founder of the Global Champions League: “We can see how the teams really get ready for [the competitions]. They put their top horses in and you see that the level gets higher and higher. It’s the first time also that we had two teams with clear rounds, that’s not happened before. Everyone takes it very seriously. It’s an experience to see the practice arena – there are not only the riders but the people around, it’s great team work how they work together, and it’s beautiful to watch. At the moment Valkenswaard United are very strong and in the lead. The Antwerp Diamonds were in the lead before, however had a little less of a good weekend in Shanghai so dropped, but the race is still open and anything can happen. We’re a third of the way through the series, everyone takes it very seriously and anything can happen.”
Volker Wulff, Show organiser, Jumping Hamburg: “We saw new pictures, new dress – it was a very, very nice competition. We have been working together since 2008, so nearly 10 years, and we will definitely continue for the next few years, it’s very good for our sport, working with Jan and his team, with the Longines Global Champions Tour and now the Global Champions League as a new addition for our event. It was a really great class we saw.”
John Whitaker, Valkenswaard United, Gold Medallist: “We’re a good team, and we’re going to keep the pressure on! We had a great day, my horse jumped super. He’s eight years old and this is probably the biggest he’s jumped in his career – he’s a big horse who enjoys the big rings. We had the same strategy as Miami, so I would get the clears in and leave Bertram to do the speed part – which he did very well.”
Bertram Allen, Valkenswaard United, Gold Medallist: “I was trying to do the maths in my head with the few who had gone before me. I saw Harrie go, and I knew I had to be six seconds faster than Harrie so I didn’t know if I could do that! I just went in and tried my best, went fast. I wasn’t sure how fast I had to go. At the double for the start I was very very tight, and I think that got me up on the time a lot, and then I had to keep it fast from there. They’re getting very competitive these Global Champions Leagues, so I knew I had to bring a good horse. I brought [Romanov] here for one class and he delivered, so it worked a treat for me.”
Audrey Coulter, Antwerp Diamonds, Silver Medallist: “Harrie’s been a very valuable member of our team, he’s been clear every time which is amazing! Consistency is really important – we’re only a third of the way through so there’s a lot to go forward. We have some horses who have proved themselves in this class and I think we’ll continue to use those and put our best foot forward, trying to be on the podium as much as possible to be in a good standing by the end of the League.”
Harrie Smolders, Antwerp Diamonds, Silver Medallist: “I think this class suits [my horse Bokai] very well, which is why we brought him here again. He convinced us again today – he jumped very well. I would have liked to have gone a little bit faster, to put a little more pressure on Valkenswaard United, but I felt I had to slow down at the end a little to keep him clear. I left a gap for Bertram and he filled it!”
Laura Kraut, Rome Gladiators, Bronze Medallist: “[Marlon] and I make a [great pair]! I was very fortunate as the horse that I’m riding is very inexperienced and I knew I couldn’t push him for time, and Marlon was amazing. I just said ‘go in and do what you do’ and he did! He was fast, and really made a lot of difference – we could have been sixth, seventh or eighth, so I’m very fortunate to have such a great team mate. It was very close – we beat the Monaco Aces by just .1 of a second or similar.”
Marlon Zanotelli, Rome Gladiators, Bronze Medallist: “We didn’t have much luck in Antwerp, and just missed the podium. So today is a nice feeling. When Laura walked in I asked her what I should do, and she said do a ‘safe round and go clear, and if you’re faster your faster’.”
Photo: GCT/Stefano Grasso