Paris, the “City of Lights”, and it was the Antwerp Diamonds team of Audrey Coulter and Harrie Smolders who shone brightest of all in the 10th round of the Global Champions League.
It was a battle of the best, with the overall GCL ranking leaderboard changing at every round. Rocketing to the top after yet another podium finish, Valkenswaard United currently sit in the lead with a tally of 239 points. Breathing down their necks are former leaders Monaco Aces, an intense three points behind, and Antwerp Diamonds have closed the gap to the top two, currently sitting in third with 226 points overall.
Looking to benefit from the enthusiastic French crowd were the home team the Paris Jets, this weekend fielding Olympic medallist Rolf-Göran Bengtsson and young Belgian talent Olivier Philippaerts. The home team delivered, picking up just four penalties to assure their place in round two.
With the standard of horse and rider so high amongst the 12 teams, any more than one pole down between riders kept teams like Vienna Eagles and Cascais Charms out of the next phase of the competition. There was a nervous moment for Cannes Stars after Bosty lost balance pushing for the final fence, however he was able to stick like glue to Sunshine du Phare (Kannan x Domino de Moyon), putting himself and teammate Marco Kutscher safely into the mix.
Crucially amongst the eight teams heading into the second round were the top two contendors in the overall league rankings, Monaco Aces and Valkenswaard United. Both took centre stage for round two on four penalties each. Three teams went through on a score of zero faults - the Rome Gladiators who this weekend fielded Marlon Zanotelli and the speedy Laura Renwick, the Antwerp Diamonds and the Cannes Stars.
Of the teams on zero scores, Harrie Smolders and Capital Colnardo (Colman x Coronado) for the Antwerp Diamonds posted another clear to move them into pole position with the final riders still to come. They had little breathing space however with the Cannes Stars just one penalty behind and another three teams on four faults overall. It was tight ahead of the last eight riders, and the pressure mounted on those last to go.
An uncharacteristic pole for Maikel van der Vleuten dropped the league leaders Monaco Aces to 6th. Valkenswaard United’s John Whitaker put yet more pressure on the following riders with a smooth clear on his talented bay mare Ornellaia (For Pleasure x Calato), with team mate Alberto Zorzi and Fair Light van't Heike (Vigo d'Arsouilles x Darco) jumping clear in round two. Their four faults carried through left them with a score of four overall, and the ones to beat as the final riders entered the ring.
Crowd favourite and home hero Roger-Yves Bost bettered that score with just the one time fault to leave the Cannes Stars on a final score of two faults overall. A clear, or just one time fault was needed for the win, and the tension was on as Audrey Coulter of the Antwerp Diamonds entered the arena with her brilliant horse Alex (Arpeggio x Mon Cheri). Watched on by teammate Harrie and her family, the young American held her nerve riding a class round to jump clear, putting the team on the top step and winning the Global Champions League of Paris.
“It’s been a super fun class. Harrie and Jos have been amazing teammates. It’s nice to have some top horses who we can put in this class and go and win. Harrie rode one of my horses - he jumped well yesterday, and we really wanted to pull out a win. Harrie’s ridden Colorado a few times before, so he knows him so I had a lot of faith in them. We started the season with me first and Harrie second but Alex is very fast so we decided mid-way to switch and put me second. That way I would know what I would have to do if we needed to go for time," Audrey Coulter said after about the win.
Harrie Smolders also commented: “This class suits us very well. I know Audrey’s horses very well, we train well together and this plays to our strengths. Today showed it again - Colorado is a horse of exceptional class so it wasn’t so difficult! I haven’t had the phone call from our teammates yet, but for sure they were watching everything."
Source: Press release from GCL // Picture © Stefano Grasso/GCL
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