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Ecstatic home triumph for Epaillard in LGCT Grand Prix of Paris

Sunday, 02 July 2017
CSI5* LGCT Paris 2017

Photo (c) Stefano Grasso/LGCT. Julien Epaillard and Usual Suspect d’Auge won the LGCT Grand Prix of Paris. Photo (c) Stefano Grasso/LGCT.

There was a huge buzz in Paris as home hero Julien Epaillard (FRA) rode to a phenomenal Longines Global Champions Tour - Longines Paris Eiffel Jumping Grand Prix win on Saturday, with his 9-year-old stallion Usual Suspect d’Auge (Jarnac x Papillon Rouge).

An ecstatic Julien declared his win as “the greatest victory of [his] career” and spoke of the high quality competition and the boost from the home crowd: “It’s amazing here in Paris, here in this special place it’s fantastic. This is the first five star show for my horse and he was crazy good. It is my first time on the podium in the Global Tour, for me it is the best sport at the moment. All the best riders are here. It’s a big surprise for me. It’s amazing to ride here in this fantastic place and with the fantastic public.” 

Emotionally he thanked the crowds directly, saying: "You helped me to fly today. Thank you very much to everybody.”

In the overall LGCT rankings the leaderboard has taken another twist, as Harrie Smolders (NED) regains the lead with 185 points overall. Christian Ahlmann (GER) however is breathing down the flying Dutchman’s neck, as he sits just five points away on 180 overall. Alberto Zorzi (ITA) keeps hold of his third place with 161 points, as the Tour gathers pace towards the second half of the season.

Under perfect blue skies and overlooked by the world famous, 324-metre high Eiffel Tower, the world’s greatest showjumpers delivered world class equestrian action at the Longines Global Champions Tour - Longines Paris Eiffel Jumping. It was full house in the grandstands as excited fans cheered their favourite riders in one of the most unique settings for top-level show jumping.

Uliano Vezzani put together a course with plenty of big parallels, featuring a big combination down the front of the VIP hospitality where guests watched in glorious sunshine as the riders took to the ring. Although not the most technical course on the Tour so far, it was again a delicate design with poles rolling at the lightest of touches. With full height 1.60m fences, horses needed plenty of scope to clear the obstacles and riders needed to balance the long gallops with tight turns and balanced combinations.

First to go clear was Harrie Smolders who put in a stylish round with the huge striding stallion Don VHP Z (Diamant de Semilly x Voltaire). The crowd then erupted as Julien Epaillard (FRA) and Usual Suspect D’auge flew around the arena, to finish two seconds faster than the Dutch rider and ensuring the passionate Parisian crowd would witness a jump-off. Olivier Philippaerts (BEL) with H&M Legend of Love (Landzauber x Corgraf) were the third to go clear, with the young Belgian putting in an effortless round with the beautiful grey mare.

Overall ranking leader Christian Ahlmann (GER) was caught out by the plank, before rolling another pole to collect eight faults with Caribis Z (Caritano x Canabis Z). Popular 2015 winner Bertram Allen (IRL) was caught out by the triple combination, before it began to unravel on Izzy By Picobello  (Cicero Z x Capriano) with the pair finishing with 13 faults in total. 

Home hero Simon Delestre (FRA) raised the temperature as he set off at a gallop with Hermes Ryan (Hugo Gesmeray x Ryon d'Anzex). The crowd were completely silent as the pair flew around the course, looking intent on a jump-off place. Heartbreakingly they clipped the final fence, as the crowd cried out in disappointment, ruing the loss of one of their favourite riders failing to make it through. Further hopes were dashed as Kevin Staut (FRA) with Silver Deux de Virton HDC (Kashmir van Schuttershof x Heartbreaker) picked up eight faults.

As blue skies shone down, it would be a three rider jump-off, with a podium guaranteed for each.

Flying Dutchman Harrie Smolders had the daunting task of first to go, with Don VHP Z raring to go out of the starting blocks. Setting off at a pace, the large striding stallion ate up the ground to the first few fences with Smolders knowing he had to throw down the gauntlet to the two riders behind him. The pair looked cool and calm, turning back tightly to the vertical before nailing the double combination. A big gallop down the last line saw the pair set the standard at 42.13s.

The crowd erupted in cheers as home hope Julien Epaillard (FRA) with Usual Suspect d’Auge entered the ring. This was the 9-year-old’s first five-star Grand Prix, and the pair didn’t disappoint. Blazing around the arena the agile horse flew over the fences, stopping the clock over two seconds faster than Smolders’ time to the delight of the crowd and taking over the lead. The turn back to the narrow oxer was sublime, propelling the pair into the lead.

Final rider to go Olivier Philippaerts rubbed the first fence and despite keeping it clean lost balance, and spent the rest of the course trying to make up time. The pair did just that but in order to win a Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix, riders need to be foot-perfect and Olivier just missed out, stopping the clock in 41.98s and in second place today. ​

"This was the first five-star Grand Prix for the horse," said Epaillard about Usual Suspect d’Auge. "The horse was born at home, and was a little bit difficult at the start. I had to go slowly with him. Just before coming here, my mare couldn’t come so I tried with him this weekend. The horse always jumped good but on the first day he was a bit scared of the atmosphere. The six bar helped him a lot because he could go into the ring. He was more relaxed today for the qualification, but today was a big surprise for me – to win! It’s my first time on the podium on the GCT and I tried for a long time - for me it’s the best sport and it’s my best victory today.”

“I think today was a great day," said Olivier Philippaerts who finished second. "It was the first day I have been on the podium. I have been close a couple of times so I was happy to be there. I think I gave myself away a bit in the jump-off in the first three or four jumps and then I was too late to make it up. I have to blame myself because the horse was great today. The horse has been jumping so well for the last few shows, she is in good shape and hopefully I can keep her like that the rest of the season."


Source: Press release from LGCT / Picture © Stefano Grasso/LGCT

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