The Longines Global Champions Tour battle intensified dramatically on Saturday, setting the scene for a nail biting event in London next week with Scott Brash (GBR) now has just three points behind current leader Luciana Diniz.
The leadership board was shaken up after Gregory Wathelet (BEL) claimed a stunning victory in Chantilly in another incredible Grand Prix. The level of competition in the Grand Prix was phenomenal and only a few rider and horse combinations were able to pull off double clears, with just three riders going through to an electrifying jump-off. The dancing dynamo of Morocco's Abdelkebir Ouaddar and his charismatic stallion Quickly de Kreisker (Diamant de Semilly x Laudanum xx) rode to a popular second place, and French favourite Pénélope Leprevost took third place, and her second podium of the year, with her bay stallion Vagabond de la Pomme (Vigo d'Arsouilles x For Pleasure).
The challenging big course set by Uliano Vezzani produced several dramatic upsets in the first round with John Whitaker (GBR), Patrice Delaveau (FRA) and last year's winner Rolf-Goran Bengtsson (SWE) retiring and many of the horses spooking at the long water jump. The gappy wall caused at least five more horses to refuse, and the Longines triple combination also posed many problems, even for the most experienced of horses and riders. The fence catching out many of the top riders out was the big oxer before the treble combination, with the related distance causing issues and leaving many horses with the first part of the fence down.
But it was a story of exceptionally high quality sport with many of the world's best combinations delivering incredible high octane competition. And all taking place in one of the most enchanting locations in the world of equestrian sport, the 'Capital of the Horse'. With nine clears through to round two, and nine more on one or four faults, Jane Richard Philips (SUI), Jessica Springsteen (USA), Pius Schwizer (SUI), Simon Delestre (FRA) and Carlos Lopez (COL) were some of the high calibre 18 to go through to the next round. With everything to play for the atmosphere was tense.
As the shadows lengthened and the sun cast a golden light across the arena, Ireland's Bertram Allen set the pace to kick off the second round with his stunning grey mare Molly Malone V (Kannan x Cavalier), completing the course in an impressive 60.27s. With his four faults from the first round carried through, he raised the bar for the remainder of the four faulters and finished the Grand Prix in 5th place, earning yet more valuable points on his ranking battle race and continuing his form from his win in Paris. Constant Van Paesschen (BEL) also put in a strong second round, riding his chestnut stallion Citizenguard Taalex (Tangelo van de Zuuthoeve x Alexis Z) beautifully to go clear and finish in 6th. Scott Brash (GBR) once more showed his class with his Grand Prix winning mare, Hello M'Lady (Indoctro x Baloubet du Rouet). Like many others, he carried four faults through from round one, following a fence down at the full 1,60m planks which was repeatedly a challenge after the fast gallop to the water.
Gregory Wathelet (BEL) set the scene once more, as the first to go double clear and laying down the gauntlet for the remainder of the field. He was soon followed by home favourite Pénélope Leprevost (FRA), who rode her ten year old bay stallion Vagabond de la Pomme intelligently to maximise his power and strength, jumping a careful round to ensure her place in the final. Last to go was another crowd pleaser as Abdelkebir Ouaddar (MAR) and Quickly de Kreisker looked determined to continue their form following their win in yesterday's feature class, following up with a double clear and with a characteristic skip and a buck thrown in by the exuberant stallion.
With just three in the final round there was a hush as Gregory Wathelet (BEL) entered the ring. Being the first to go in the jump off he was determined to raise the bar riding a phenomenal round on Conrad de Hus by Con Air in just 36.55 seconds, lengthening the strides of his ten year old stallion and shaving off valuable milliseconds by taking tighter angles to the fences. The bay stallion did him proud, pulling out all the stops to ride an exceptionally careful but fast round.
Next up was Pénélope, who was looking to do the double following her win at the Cannes Grand Prix earlier this year. However the fourth fence, a huge double of verticals, proved to be her downfall after Vagabond de la Pomme clipped the second upright element behind, finishing with four faults in 37.31s.
Morocco's Abdelkebir Ouaddar and Quickly de Kreisker were last to go and aiming for their first Grand Prix victory of the season, and second win of the weekend, keeping the audience on their toes as he galloped around the course at a sensational speed. But they had an unlucky final fence down to the groans of thousands of show jumping fans in the grandstand and the VIP hospitality lodges, leaving them in second place.
Gérard Manzinali, President of Longines Global Champions Tour of Chantilly: "When you have such important elements all together to make great sport, the event will always be great. We are lucky enough to have the city of Chantilly taking care of the hippodrome all year long, and the royal stables are beautiful surroundings for the show. We have the best riders in the world coming here. We have a great partners in Jan Tops, the Longines Global Champions Tour and France Galop. My team is fantastic, so all these elements combined makes this show a great success. We are confirmed to host the Longines Global Champions Tour for four more years and I’m sure we have a great future ahead together with many years of great collaboration."
Jan Tops, President and Founder of Longines Global Champions Tour said: "The ranking battle is getting very close now as Luciana Diniz and Scott Brash have only three points between them and it will be an exciting race to the finish. Of course we still have five more legs to go but these two are very strong. It will be interesting to see other top contenders such as Christian Alhmann, Sheikh Ali Bin Khalid Al Thani and Rolf-Goran Bengtsson who are not far off and will be sure to fight for the overall title.
Gregory Wathelet had this to say: "My horse jumped extremely well in the first round and then just got better and better. I'd like to thank my horse for this wonderful victory here in Chantilly. I can only be super happy with my horse. I very grateful to have such a good horse to ride and I owe him the win today in the Grand Prix. Being first to go in the jump off, I knew that Penelope Leprevost and Abdelkebir Ouaddar were able to go very fast so I took few risk. Of course I could have gone even quicker but I think still I put some pressure on them. Also I would like to thank the amazing public who comes here in Chantilly. The athmosphere was absolutely fabulous and I really enjoyed riding here. Thank you again to everyone who came here to watch this great sport."
Abdelkebir Ouaddar, second place: "First, I want to thank everybody working at the Longines Global Champions Tour for the beautiful shows that they organise. Thank you to Jan Tops of course who is at the head of all of this. Thank you to my horse as well because he did everything I asked of him today; he has been fantastic. The public here are really amazing every year. And finally I would like to congratulate Gregory Wathelet for his win."
Penelope Leprevost, third place: "The boys have not been so courteous with me today. I told them before the jump-off that they should let me win because I’m a girl and it’s more polite but they didn’t listen to me! Haha! I’m very happy with my horse. It was the first time in a year that he jumped on the grass. It’s his second show since the final worldcup in Las Vegas. On his first round he was feeling a bit strange and looking at all the fences but he became better and better. When I saw Gregory’s round in the jump-off I thought “Wouahou! How can I beat him?” so I did my best but it was not enough to win!"
Source: Press release from Longines Global Champions Tour
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