Flying Dutchman Harrie Smolders and Don VHP (Diamant de Semilly x Voltaire) seized the victory in a dramatic jump-off in the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Rome.
The rescheduled €391,900 class Grand Prix saw Smolders snatch the win from his compatriot Maikel van der Vleuten and then narrowly hold onto his lead after a challenge from the final rider to enter the ring - the speedy Frenchman Simon Delestre, who took second place today. Power combinations, featuring the top 30 ranked riders in the world, delivered a stunning display of showjumping under the Italian sunshine.
“I’m very happy. I was very pleased with my horse, and I’m very pleased for my owners team Copernicus and the Coulter-family who let me ride this horse. He’s been a great horse for me already, although we were missing a victory at 5* level but now we’ve got that too!” smiled Harrie after his win.
The passionate and knowledgeable Italian crowd were on the edge of their seats as home rider Alberto Zorzi narrowly lost out on a podium place after joining the ranks of the combinations who delivered triple clear rounds in the 1.60m class. There was disappointment for Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS), who started the event as ranking leader, but lost out on points to close rival Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (SWE) who is now five points ahead of her on the leaderboard.
Uliano Vezzani set a straightforward but delicate course, which made it easy to pick up four faults at any point, adding on the extra pressure of finishing the rest of the round clear and fast. The resumed first round course proved a tough test for the world’s best with many rolling a pole in all areas of the course.
The second round course featured fences up to the full 1.60m height, but a flowing pace allowed riders to pick up speed throughout the turns. An imposing Roman Coin oxer set against the long-side of the watching crowd with seven strides to the final vertical gave the crowd a thrilling view as they watched to see which heroes would make it through to the jump-off. Faults came from all over the course, until Maikel van der Vleuten put in a great clear round with VDL Groep Arera C (Indoctro x Voltaire). And when home heroes Alberto Zorzi and Piergiorgio Bucci both earned their place in the final round after going clear, it was much to the delight of the passionate crowd.
The jump-off was set with the crowd on the edge of the seats, ready to follow the seven riders in it. As first to go Maikel van der Vleuten set a cracking pace with VDL Groep Arera C, setting the time to beat at 34.07 seconds. Jos Verlooy and Alberto Zorzi both also jumped triple clear, but were unable to knock the Dutch rider off the top position and eventually finished sixth and fourth respectively. Rolf-Göran Bengtsson and Casall Ask (Caretino x Lavall I) entered the ring to the cheer of the crowd, with the Swedish rider knowing a good result would shoot him up to the overall ranking lead. The pair were flawless, however a touch off the best time, dropping them down to fifth overall. Home hero Piergiorgio Bucci once again looked set for a podium finish, but agonisingly clipped the final fence.
Harrie Smolders was next to enter the ring, and with the huge striding liver chestnut Don VHP Z he took out valuable seconds and saved time between the galloping distances. The pair stopped the clock at 33.11 seconds to the cheers of the crowd, with one rider left to go. Silence fell as world number 3 Simon Delestre and his fiery gelding Chesall Zimequest (Casall x Concerto II) entered the ring, with all eyes on the formidable combination. With lightning fast speed, Simon guided the smaller chestnut through the course, but the pair couldn’t match the Dutch rider's pace and had to settle with the runner-up position finishing second in 34.00.
However, Simon Delestre was not too disappointed; “It was a fantastic jump-off. I tried but I was a little bit too far away. I was really happy with Chesall - this is one of the first times he jumped the Grand Prix on the Global Champions Tour so it is a super result.”
Maikel van der Vleuten agreed with Delestre on the great sport in Rome, and said; "It was a very good jump off and it was good to put the pressure on the other riders. I think I can be very happy with the third place and the others were better today!"
Source: Press release from LGCT // Pictures © Stefano Grasso/LGCT
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