The 2016 Global Champions League blasted off in Miami Beach with a knife edge victory for the dynamic duo of John Whitaker (GBR) and Bertram Allen (IRL) in team Valkenswaard United.
It was a dazzling launch for the thrilling new competition format as some of the world’s top riders became team mates for the first time, propelling showjumping into a new era. Riders, fans and guests hailed the debut and spoke of its importance for the future of the sport.
Dutch champion Harrie Smolders, who jumped two clear rounds for team Antwerp Diamonds that are now in second place, said: “I think we saw some exciting sport and I think the Global has already done so much for our sport. They deserve our support and we are all going to make this into a successful story.”
With the first ranking points on the leaderboard the scene is set for a high octane season as riders go into battle at 15 events around the world. Against the breathtaking backdrop of the surf and the turquoise waters of the Atlantic beachfront, spectators and international guests watched 12 teams go into combat.
All teams are named after cities on the circuit, and fans who had never witnessed showjumping before were immediately identifying with their home city.
Eight teams made it through to the second round, based on time and penalties. Home team Miami Glory, owned by Georgina Bloomberg (USA), led the field by a narrow margin after Georgina and team mate Kent Farrington (USA) both jumped clear in the first round.
The first round was a unrelenting type track in the compact arena with an influential time allowed, meaning there was no room for the slightest error or miscalculation. The teams had earlier decided and declared their rider order, with the pressure on both to jump clear as quickly as possible over the 1.50/1.55m course. The time posed turned out to be the greatest factor in whether the teams went through to round two with Pedro Veniss of Madrid in Motion, Quentin Judge of Cascais Charms, Gregory Wathelet of Paris Jets and Laura Renwick of Rome Gladiators all picking up time faults. Ben Maher’s horse Aristo (Andiamo x Flamenco de Semilly) had an unusual refusal, which was a shame as the Shanghai Swans were going well and looking strong.
Miami Glory and Valkenswaard United were the only teams to jump clear, just hundredths of a second apart from each other, with Madrid in Motion on one combined penalty and Antwerp Diamonds carrying over four faults. Timings would be set to zero again for the second round, with any penalties for a team carried through from round one. The combined time of both team riders in round two, plus any penalties would determine just who took the Global Champions League win.
The course for round two was a completely different ball game by design, with an open course allowing for a galloping pace, and a real run to the last. Most were able to turn inside the vertical before the gallop to the final fence, shaving off time at the point where every second counts.
Daniel Bluman (COL) of Monaco Aces jumped double clear with his stunning bay mare Believe (Ukato x Burggraaf), but an agonising fence for teammate Leopold van Asten (NED) and VDL Groep Miss Untouchable (Chacco-Blue x Aldatus) meant they would finish just short of the podium. As the final rounds played out, it was down to the wire to determine the podium with the final riders feeling the pressure.
John Whitaker (GBR) of Valkenswaard United put in a strong round ahead of his teammate Bertram Allen (IRL) to jump double clear with the 12y-year-old gelding Lord of Arabia (Cassini II x Carry). Bertram Allen (IRL) and Quiet Easy 4 (Quidam's Rubin x Zapateado) had an unlucky fence down in the second round, however with their typically quick pace they were able to cross the line in 52.72s, meaning the combined time would be 113.15s. Antwerp Diamonds had Harrie Smolders (NED) and grey gelding Bokai (Up To Date x Ferro) as a solid anchor, jumping a double clear - however the four faults carried over from round one meant they had to watch from the sideline with a combined time of 118.59s, knowing that Miami Glory could beat them to second place.
Kent Farrington’s four faults in round two put the pressure on teammate Georgina, tying them with the Antwerp Diamonds team, so not only did she have to be clear but fast for second place. An unlucky fence down towards the end of the course, to the audible grown on the home crowd, for Georgina and Caleno 3 (Calido Ass x Lancer II) saw Miami Glory slip to third in the rankings, with Valkenswaard United the clear winners.
It was a solid performance for impressive duo of John Whitaker (GBR) and Bertram Allen (IRL) of team Valkenswaard United who have approximately 40 years in age difference. Experience and talent combined made them a formidable duo and the team took the lion’s share of the prize money, and propelled the team into the ranking lead.
“This was a great win. I think our strategy paid off a little bit. It was nail-biting right down to the second last fence - it was still wide open and so was high tension! It’s been great to be a part of it and like everybody says, it’s easy to follow and it was tension right to the last fence," Whitaker said after the win.
John's team mate Bertram Allen continued: "It’s great, and to be with John is fantastic. It’s an honor to be on the team with him and it was nice for us to get a win today so I’m delighted. [Our strategy] was fairly straightforward. We didn’t get into too much details over there. We knew what we had to do and time flew today. It paid off.”
Source: Press release from GCL // Picture © GCL/Stefano Grasso
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