It was a battle of the Legends with a capital 'L' in Lausanne on Saturday evening when Germany's Ludger Beerbaum and Chaman (Baloubet du Rouet x I Love You) took on Britain's John Whitaker and Argento (Arko III x Gasper) in front of a hugely excited and supportive Suisse crowd, with the four-time Olympic Gold medallist Beerbaum coming out on top by just 0.81s. Third place went to the relative newcommer in the Longines GCT Argentina's José Maria Larocca with GDE Matrix (Cardento 933 x Maximus 620), who finished one of just two other treble clears 0.84s ahead of 4th placed Gerco Schröder and Cognac Champblanc (Clearway) who jumped his socks off. With his win, Beerbaum has stormed up the tour ranking from 4th to 1st taking a narrow lead of 15 points.
The picturesque lake-side showground was packed for the Grand Prix showdown with spectators thrilled by the incredible sport. Hundreds of guests enjoyed the competition from ring-side seats alongside the arena. With the event taking place in Lausanne, home of the International Olympic Committee, it was fitting that the IOC Sports Director Kit McConnell joined hundreds of guests to watch the best showjumpers in the world in action.
The first round of Luc Musette's Grand Prix course was a twisting, turning gauntlet with a number of bogey fences. Ranking leader Rolf-Göran Bengtsson with his relatively inexperienced Clarimo Ask (Clearway x Caletto II/) lowered two fences in the first round and did not make the top 18 cut for the second round, opening up his No1 spot on the tour ranking to attack from those below him. Hot favourite, World No1 Scott Brash with Hello Annie (Contendro I x For Pleasure), who has won an incredible three rounds this season with Hello Sanctos, retired halfway round after collecting eight faults early on.
Following the World Championships, Ludger Beerbaum came back with a bang in Lausanne making the testing first round course look simple where others had struggled. Edwina Tops-Alexander and Old Chap Tame (Carthago) also produced a careful clear round to put pressure on the riders ranked above and below her on the tour table. Qatar's Bassem Hassan Mohammed, back with his Monaco Grand Prix-winning star mare Victoria (Tangelo van de Zuuthoeve x Cordano), also finished on a zero score in the first round.
The second round was full of tall airy uprights and wide square oxers which took a lot of jumping. First to go was Jane Richard Philips carrying four faults from the first round, who jumped a stylish clear and made the task look achievable. But it wasn't until nine riders later when Gerco Schröder with Cognac Champblanc entered the arena that another clear made it onto the score sheet. Beerbaum followed immediately after with another double clear. But it was a double clear from Britain's John Whitaker with Argento that really raised the roof.
Tops-Alexander dropped out of the running in the second round with 14 faults as did Mohammed with 12 faults. But it was a pair of less familiar faces on the tour, José Maria Larocca and Pilar Lucrecia Cordon with Nuage Bleu (Fildor de Largival x Odjak Du Trens), second-to-last and last to go, who really rose to the occasion by going on to jump a double clear to join this world-class trio.
The jump-off course itself offered some daring turn-back options and Gerco Schroder was the pathfinder with his big-jumping grey, riding a careful but neat round and setting a time of 40s dead. Beerbaum was next to go and rode what he described as a 'close to perfect round' to stop the clock at 37.50s. The crowd cheered and a rare smile crept across the German's face as he left the arena patting his horse. Camera's followed Ludger into the warm-up arena where he watched Whitaker's round anxiously.
John Whitaker entered to a warm and welcoming applause, and managed to make up time with his stallion's quick movement across the ground as he tried to claw back some of the seconds saved by Ludger's smooth, big striding Chaman. Argento raced through the finish in 38.31s jumping confidently around a course John described as 'a bit big for me'. The relief on Ludger's face was clear as he watch a long-time rival settle for 2nd place.
Larocca was last to go and with pole position he knew what he had to do, but the experienced legends were deceptively quick and he could only finished in 39.16s. It was an emotional Grand Prix for many, seeing Ludger Beerbaum and John Whitaker go up against each other once again, and for John to take the first LGCT podium finish of his long and illustrious career was a special moment for many who watched it.
“It’s always nice to win, even at different levels, especially in Lausanne the Olympic Capital. It’s really special. I only come from a small village in Germany so it’s a pleasure to be here in such a prestigious town and to win in front of a lot of world class combinations. Simply, my performance today is really pleasing, my horse jumped fantastic today - I was close to perfect,” said Beerbaum following his win.
And John Whitaker was fine with being second: “I am very pleased to be second. I would have liked to have won, but Ludger was too fast. My horse is fast, but I took too many strides - my horse jumped fantastic. I am so pleased to be here. Argento has not got the scope and power of a lot of the other horses, but he tries and he is developing more. When I walked the course I thought, ‘this is a bit big for me’ but he jumped it really well.”
Source: Press release from the Longines Global Champions Tour
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