It was a glittering display of teamwork as Antwerp Diamonds shot to the ranking lead after stealing a sparkling win at their home venue for the third round of the Global Champions League. U25 team rider, and home hero Jos Verlooy said: “We came with the big guns - our aim was to win and we did, so I couldn’t be happier!”
Donning their team jackets for the first time in the League, which sported personalised names, logos and team sponsors, the chilly weather in Belgium posed no problem for the twelve teams, all hot to compete for the first European leg. Watched on by fans and VIPs, with many more tuning in via the GCL TV live streaming, the scene was set in the intimate sand arena, nestled next to the River Scheldt.
The first round course was tough, and set at the full 1.55m with plenty of turns to test the top riders and horses in the world. Just three teams jumped a combined clear in the first round; Rome Gladiators’ Laura Kraut (USA) with her experienced grey 18-year-old gelding Cedric and Marlon Módolo Zanotelli (BRA) with the 11-year-old stallion Rock'n Roll Semilly, Monaco Aces’ Schuyler Riley (USA) with her fiery chestnut mare Dobra de Porceyo and Daniel Bluman (COL) with his 11-year-old stallion Conconcreto Apardi as well as Antwerp Diamonds’ Audrey Coulter (USA) with the 13-year-old bay Domino and Jos Verlooy (BEL) with his impressive grey stallion Caracas. Pedro Veniss (BRA) with Quabri de l'Isle and Athina Onassis de Miranda (GRE) with AD Cinsey also jumped clear, but picked up an unlucky time fault, leaving them on a score of 1, ahead of the second round.
Some big names failed to make it into the top eight teams, with surprises from all areas of the course. The experienced duo of Roger-Yves Bost (FRA), who rode Sangria du Coty, and team mate Marco Kutscher (GER) with Balermo, picked up four faults apiece, leaving them on a total of eight and unable to progress through to the next round. While top Belgian rider Gregory Wathelet (BEL) jumped clear with his superbly talented young 9-year-old mare Lilly Lordanos for the Paris Jets, they were unable to progress to round two when team mate Rolf-Göran Bengtsson and his hot grey stallion Clarimo ASK had two down during their round.
The pressure was on U25 rider Jessica Mendoza (GBR) of Miami Glory who rode a stunning round to jump clear with her 10-year-old bay gelding Sam de Bacon, as team mate Scott Brash (GBR) and his 15-year-old Ursula XII had an uncharacteristic 12 faults, placing them in the drop zone. Similarly Shanghai Swans’ Ben Maher (GBR) with Boomerang picked up 12 faults, and despite second-to-go U25 team mate Jessica Springsteen (USA) jumping a superb round with her talented Davendy S, they too were excluded from the second round of action.
The next round had all the excitement of a jump-off with pace and time counting to the final result. The three teams on clear were fighting amongst themselves, vying for position but also conscious they needed clears to stay high on the leaderboard. The Vienna Eagles had a good round, with Rodrigo Pessoa (BRA) and Citizenguard Cadjanine Z lifting them up the order, however his combined four faults with team mate Lauren Hough (USA) and Cornet 39 meant they would finish in sixth.
The Monaco Aces were looking hot to win, until Daniel Bluman (COL) crashed through the last fence, much to the groans of the crowd, had they jumped clear they would have won. John Whitaker (GBR) of Valkenswaard United showcased his anchor man role, jumping clear again with his top mare Ornellaia, while speedy team mate Bertram Allen (IRL) and his experienced grey mare Molly Malone gave it there all to push the team back up to second place.
Rome Gladiators focused on strategy, with their tactics to go slow and clear. All went well until Marlon clipped the back of the rainbow oxer - agonisingly their slow time dropped them back down the field, just shy of the podium and in fourth overall.
But it was the Antwerp Diamonds who reigned supreme. Audrey Coulter had one down in her round, meaning there was extra pressure on rising star Jos Verlooy, who galloped between the fences, and jumping clear - finishing on a combined four faults and an impressive 111.77s overall.
“It’s amazing to be at our home venue and to be winning is really great. We came close in Mexico and Miami, but Valkenswaard beat us, so it was good to beat them today! It’s exciting!” Coulter said after the win.
Jos Verlooy joined in; “It’s special - I live just 20 minutes from here. We came with the big guns - our aim was to win and we did it, so I can’t be happier. It’s great to have the support here, I know 50% of the people who are here at the show, so it’s super to win for them here.”
The League now heads to Shanghai for the fourth round of competition, next weekend in China.
Source: Press release from GCL // Picture © GCL/Stefano Grasso
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