Rolf-Göran Bengtsson and Harrie Smolders were the victorious dream team in Valkenswaard Friday night in a spectacular precursor to the launch of Global Champions League in 2016. Riding as Team Madrid, they took the win over Edwina Tops-Alexander and Henk van de Pol who finished in second place as Team Chantilly, with Daniel Deusser and Christina Liebherr taking third for Team Hamburg.
It was revealed that teams for the new League, which will offer prize money of €7.5 million, are already lined up as anticipation for the new show jumping format gathers momentum. Speaking about the new League, Jan Tops said: “This year we already have six teams committed for next year. You can mix different nations and get the best of the best together and that is what makes it different from the Nations Cup. It is going to be very exciting to see that and follow that next year."
Tonight 15 teams of the world’s best riders added a unique dimension to a stunning evening of world class sport and entertainment. The competition was part of the Longines Global Champions Tour of Valkenswaard and thrilled the crowds and international guests at the new Tops International Arena.
Winning riders Rolf-Göran Bengtsson and Harrie Smolders were paired as Team Madrid after a random draw supervised by the FEI. Each team was named was destinations on the Tour calendar and after their victory flying Dutchman Harrie declared: “It was always a dream to ride in a team once with him and it came out.”
The nail-biting Team Competition had fans on the edge of their seats as riders who are normally rivals were paired up and depending on each other for success. Tactics and strategy came into play as tension built during the two-round competition played out under floodlights at the state-of-the-art facility.
Harrie Smolders rose to the challenge of setting the pace, and took his bay 11 year old mare Aiyetoro clear to the cheers of the local crowd. As the first of the team riders entered the stunning grass arena it soon became clear that the time allowed of 80 seconds would be tight, and as the riders took their chances around the 1,55m course many picked up a few time faults which would prove costly to the final result.
While the competition featured many of the best riders in the world, it was designed to test, as the layout encouraged the horses forward and the long straight lines across the vast arena posed a technical challenge as well as pace. Edwina Tops-Alexander was a class act, riding a stunning round with her mare Heidi du Ruisseau Z putting Team Chantilly right at the sharp end of the grid and put the pressure on for teammate Henk van de Pol. However, Henk rose to the challenge and completed a strong round with Spartacus TN with the quickest time so far, meaning that Team Chantilly sailed through to the second round and in pole position to start.
Ludger Beerbaum and Kevin Staut were another pair to watch as they put in a strong first round, with Ludger picking up an unlucky time fault, taking them through on a score of 1. However one fence down for Kevin, and an unusual two for Ludger saw them finish the competition in 5th place. In matching jackets, the all girl team of Luciana Diniz and Tiffany Foster put up a strong performance, finishing the first round on just 5 faults in total. Likewise the combination of Daniel Deusser and Christina Liebherr rode through on a score of five, and with some of the big names toppling the fences, there was everything to play for as the top eight went through to round two.
The second round course was fair and again open, drawing horse and riders into mistakes, and encouraging a fast pace, in particular towards the last line. With the added pressure and responsibility of being in the team, the battle was on as the floodlights lit the arena.
However it was Harrie Smolders and Rolf-Göran Bengtsson who came out on top, finishing in a joint time of 160.8 and picking up just one time fault. Edwina and Henk looked set to beat them, but the penultimate fence caught the Dutch rider out to the groans of the home crowd - and Edwina - and four faults was added to their combined time of 155,99. Despite being on 5 faults as they entered round two, both Daniel Deusser and Christina Liebherr for Team Hamburg rode clear, picking up just one time fault each to leave them in the final podium position.
Jan Tops - President of Longines Global Champions Tour: "The whole evening was fantastic, it was for sure a great course again from Uliano and great sport, only one team clear and the ambience in the new stadium was fantastic on the Friday night. It was the first time we have jumped in the evening in front of so many people, I think it was amazing. This is what the format for next year for the League will be. It will be on the Friday evening, the team will exist of five people and the team manager or the team owner can decide two riders to ride in the class. It is going to be over 15 events, the whole year, and will have good prize money of seven and a half million over the Tour, every class will be 200,000, so it’s going to be amazing sport and I think that the riders will prepare their good horses also for the Friday night.
"Strategy is very interesting as we have 15 events and all will be different. Sometimes we jump in the day, sometimes in the night, sometimes in the grass arena, sand arena, small arenas, so it is going to be really strategic for the team manager, where to put which horse where and I think that’s the beauty of this competition."
Rolf-Goran Bengtsson, Team Madrid, 1st place: "The class was not so easy to jump, there was only two double clears and the time allowed was good and you had to go a little bit quick to not have some faults with the time so you had to take some risks to win. It was a very exciting competition all the way up to Henk’s very last round all the way up to the end of it, I think it was a fantastic evening, great to be here, fantastic course and night."
Harrie Smolders, Team Madrid, 1st place: "I was very relaxed as I had a team mate like Rolf, he’s already at the top level for many years and with him in the team, it was always a dream to ride in a team once with him and today it came out."
Edwina Tops-Alexander, Team Chantilly, 2nd place: "The competition was very exciting and the crowd were very enthusiastic. You could see people trying to guess and calculate who was clear and who was not. A few people came to me afterwards and told me how easy it was to follow. Also for us it was the first time we had a show with the lights here and it created a really nice atmosphere. We did our best and we did quite well!"
Henk van de Pol, Team Chantilly, 2nd place: “It is always really nice to ride in the same team as a great rider such as Edwina. She did two amazing clear rounds. I only had to be clear but I didn’t. One thing is for sure that we didn’t know what could happen until the end of the competition and this is very exciting."
Daniel Deusser, Team Hamburg, 3rd place: "I think after the first round we were in the 6th position, but again that’s the interest of the team competition: it’s not about yourself it’s about the team. It’s also about what can happen and change in the second round. The second round was really nice but it was quite a difficult course. There were a lot of changes which makes it even more interesting."
Christina Liebherr, Team Hamburg 3rd place: "I was really happy to be with Daniel Deusser in the team, he is an amazing rider. It was great fun to ride tonight, the atmosphere was really good. Also the arena was beautiful with the grass and everything, what could we ask more as a rider? And when your horse plays the game with you, it’s really a good feeling."
Source: Press release from Longines Global Champions Tour.
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