It was an incredible Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix on Saturday, which had spectators on the edge of their seats throughout as Rolf-Göran Bengtsson and Casall Ask came out as the winning pair. The Swede beat France's leading riders Simon Delestre and Penelope Leprevost after a five rider jump-off.
It was a first round of all weathers as the 47 riders took to the sand arena. Kicking off in brilliant sunshine, the early riders took their chance to earn a place in round two, with Uliano Vezzani’s course a true test for the top combinations in the world. It was a very big course, with many of the fences set at the maximum 1.60 testing the horses’ power and agility. The final line proved troubelsome for many, with a tricky line from a vertical to an oxer out of the corner followed by a double of uprights before a last oxer waited tall and wide.
First to go clear was third starter Georgina Bloomberg (USA), showcasing a masterful round throughout the tricky course. Hot on her heels was her compatriot Jessica Springsteen, Mathieu Billot (FRA) and Bassem Hassan Mohammad (QAT) followed before young German rider Philip Houston also joined in.
As USA's Lauren Hough entered the ring with the heavens opened, with heavy rain persisting for the next few riders. Maikel van der Vleuten (NED), Pius Schwizer (SUI), Ludger Beerbaum (GER), Laura Renwick (GBR) and home rider Kevin Staut (FRA) were all caught out, clipping poles and missing out on the second round.
14 riders in total jumped clear, with the top 18 going through to round two. Harold Boisset (FRA), Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS), Jane Richard Philips (SUI), Scott Brash (GBR), Cedric Angot (FRA), Abdelkebir Ouaddar (MAR), Simon Delestre (FRA), Penelope Leprevost (FRA) and Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (SWE) also all went through to round two clear. Joining them would be Daniel Bluman (COL), Harrie Smolders (NED), Kevin Staut (FRA) and Leopold van Asten (NED) all through on four faults.
The second round was a big course, but very jumpable, with the all-weather surface holding up beautifully as the sun returned. The French riders had been on form all weekend, winning every class and they maintained their streak of success as three of them again made it look easy to post double clears and set up a jump-off along with Scott Brash, Rolf-Göran Bengtsson and Bassem Hassan Mohammed.
The crowds in the stands were in for a thrilling conclusion as the five horse jump-off got underway. First to go Bassem Hassan Mohammed jumped clear again, setting the benchmark at 41.33 second on Dejavu (Heartbreaker x Ramiro). However next to go Penelope Leprevost soon smashed his time with Vagabond de la Pomme (Vigo d'Arsouilles x For Pleasure), spurred on by the crowd and crossing the line in a spectacular 39.12 seconds. Next up was leading home rider Simon Delestre who entered the ring to the cheers of the crowd and set off at a blistering pace with Hermès Ryan (Hugo Gesmeray x Ryon d''Anzex), with the small chestnut gelding racing to the fences with an unbelievably quick gallop to the last. They pipped Penelope to the post, stopping the clocks in 39.02 seconds as the crowd roared in approval in support of their leading home rider.
Last to enter were Rolf-Göran Bengtsson and the 17-year-old stallion Casall Ask (Caretino x Lavall I). Simon’s time looked impossible to beat, but Rolf carefully managed Casall’s enthusiasm opening up the stallion to allow his bigger strides to eat up the ground and riding at unbelievable angles to shave of valuable time and crossing the line in 38.50 secinds which was half a second quicker than the flying Frenchman.
Casall Ask is surely the most consistent Grand Prix horses there’s ever been - this his 3rd podium finish this year and remarkably his 7th career Grand Prix win on the tour where he’s amassed over 1.5million euros in prize money so far.
"It is a fantastic series and it is something special to get on the podium in Doha in the final. I won the show there in Doha but was second two times overall. Casall is 17-years-old now, so could be his last season - every show I can go with him and win a class like a GCT class is very special. It was a fantastic crowd and they stayed in the rain," said Bengtsson after his win.
Commenting on his second place, Simon Delestre said: "Ryan is very fast and from the very beginning I set out to jump fast. In the end Rolf beat me on the really tight turn he did on the vertcal but I was very pleased with tonight and it’s just before Rio so it's a good result."
Penelope Leprevost was also pleased with the result: I was second to go I did my best. I was just behind Simon and I am happy tonight."
Source: Press release from LGCT // Pictures © Stefano Grasso/LGCT
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