A fraction of a second split the fortunes of the top two teams in the GCL of Madrid with the London Knights triumphing ahead of New York Empire in a nail-biting finish.
The win by the Knights dynamic duo of Ben Maher and Martin Fuchs propelled the team up the overall ranking after the fifth leg of the 2019 season, but Shanghai Swans remain on top as a ferocious battle develops in the top end of the GCL grid.
The home team Madrid In Motion, owned by Marta Ortega, fielded father and son Eric and Maikel van der Vleuten and the family-friendly combination pulled off a third place on the podium to the delight of the local crowd. All three teams on the podium kept impressive clean sheets in both rounds of the GCL competition.
The large grass arena is happy hunting ground for the London Knights, who were also victorious here last year.
Today, it was supersonic clear rounds from both Martin Fuchs riding Chaplin and Ben Maher on Explosion W that secured pole position ahead of the overnight leaders. With teams tied on points, time was critical, so riders had to be bold and take tight lines to be remain in contention.
It was a welcome turnaround for the Knights who were eliminated from two of the first four GCL events of 2019. Martin said: “I was very pleased to be here with Ben, who is always a great teammate and he made a double clear like he usually does.”
Ben said: “Martin’s round yesterday on his second horse was great, and we played it right today; we both went quick for the class and we needed to — we were just quick enough. Both of our horses jumped good and we had a difficult decision today because our other team member Emily [Moffitt] was also clear but we’re very happy to be coming from behind this year so far.”
The overnight leaders, New York Empire, were last to go and were bolstered by a clear in the fastest time of the competition from the 22-year-old rider Spencer Smith with Theodore Manciais, but Scott Brash’s relatively inexperienced Hello Shelby couldn’t quite hit the pace required to put the team ahead of the London Knights despite a classy clear.
Spanish course designer Santiago Varela Ullastres presented a flowing 475m track over this undulating terrain. The 76-second time allowed caught out riders who dallied and the triple combination set on an uphill incline took the most victims, with the vertical first element falling more than any other fence on the course. GCL Co-Founder Jan Tops said: “It was amazing sport here with the three top teams riding double clear. These things don’t normally happen.” Alvaro Arrieta Konyay, President of Organising Partner Oxer Sport, said: “We are proud to have the opportunity to host a leg of the GCL here in Madrid.”
The series leaders, the Shanghai Swans, were kept off the Madrid podium by a single time fault, and they finished in fourth. They sit on top of ranking on 109 points. St Tropez Pirates are in second on 89 points followed closely by Monaco Aces and Miami Celtics both on 87 points.
How the action panned out:
St Tropez Pirates
The Pirates fielded an unchanged all-female team. Trailblazer Athina Onassis (MHS Going Global) started steady and pulled off a stylish clear, but paid the price with two time faults. Edwina Tops-Alexander the 15-year-old Ego Van Orti set off a touch faster, though the team tactic appeared to be for steady clears to keep the penalties to a minimum. But Ego got a little flat coming into the triple combination and knocked down the first element with a dangling front foot. This took them to a team total of 23.
The Cannes’ first rider Karel Cox kept the pace up and the lines somewhat relaxed and wide to keep Evert flowing nicely to produce a classy round in front of the horse’s owners on the kiss ’n cry. Abdel Saïd stepped in to ride for the Cannes Stars for the first time at this show. He piloted Jumpy van der Hermitage to a clear round over the fences, but picked up a single time fault, bringing the team score to 18.
Sheikh Ali Bin Khalid Al Thani’s Sirocco looked spooky coming into the big ring, but the flashy chestnut started his round quickly and confidently. The pair knocked out the first part of the Massimo Dutti triple combination and also rubbed the third element, but it stayed up. Michael Whitaker, riding the mare Strides Hilanasterne, was under pressure was on for him to produce a fault-free round and also rubbed the final part of the triple, but it remained intact. She drifted right over a number of fences, but pulled off a clear round inside the time, leaving the team on a total of 20.
This team put forward the unchanged tried and tested combination of the Lopez brothers. Carlos Lopez’s G&C Arrayan started a little unsettled and was another to lower the top bar of the first part of the triple. After the mistake, Carlos upped the pace and posted the fastest time of any rider yet, but the final fence also came tumbling down, giving him eight faults. René Lopez on Histoire DO produced a fast round, but came unstuck at the penultimate fence, punching out the back rail of the wide oxer. The additional faults left them on a team total of 28.
Marcus Ehning once again brought his top horse Funky Fred in to bat for the team. The big horse touched the first fence after a wobbly approach, but it stayed up. Marcus managed him expertly and they quickly found their stride again, but they were yet another pair to come to grief at the triple, lowering the vertical at the first element. The round was fast though — the quickest four-fault result yet. Frank Schuttert stepped in for the team riding Lyonel D. They tackled the tricky triple but the next fence, the Volvo oxer, came down, as did the second part of the Longines double. The disappointing round left the team on a total of 28.
The first combination for the Monaco Aces, Julien Epaillard and Virtuose Champeix, lowered an early rail at the GC Prague Playoffs upright at fence three after a rub in front. The rest of the fences stayed up, so they posted four faults. Jérôme Guery was the second rider on the phenomenally consistent Quel Homme De Hus. The horse produced his 12th clear round in a row. His style might not be the smoothest, but the stallion jumped his heart out, putting in some giant leaps. The Monaco Aces, who won in Shanghai, finished on a team score of 16 in Madrid.
There was disappointment for the Prague Lions after first rider Anna Kellnerova fell from her horse Catch Me If You Can at fence 11. She received immediate medial care on site and was conscious at all times before being taken to hospital for further checks. This meant elimination for the team. Marc Houtzager then jumped as an individual on board Sterrehof’s Calimero, posting a classy clear.
Team stalwart Harrie Smolders had an uncharacteristically difficult ride on Don VHP Z. Two elements of the triple came down followed swiftly by a refusal, which prompted Harrie to retire his loyal partner. Although the team was therefore eliminated, Nayel Nassar jumped as an individual on Lucifer V. They started on a forward stride but knuckled out the first part of the triple as well as lowering a second rail. It was a day to forget for the Paris Panthers.
The Giants fielded an unchanged team, with Bart Bles and the grey Gin D once again going first. They started at a relaxed pace but revved up as they went round. The back rail of one oxer clattered and bounced in the cups but stayed up; they produced the first team rider double clear in Madrid. Bart handed the baton to Lauren Hough, who suffered an awkward jump at the first with Waterford. She kept up the pace between fences, then clipped the first part of the triple and Waterford worked hard to stretch and twist to clear the remaining elements, but the horse’s balance and striding was affected and they met the next fence, the Volvo oxer disorganised and couldn’t leave the back rail up. Lauren rode masterfully to finish with just four faults, taking the team total to eight.
Daniel Deusser and Calisto Blue started quickly, opting for inside turns. They touched the front rail of the GCL oxer, but it stayed up. Daniel rode determinedly, keeping a forward position and putting the horse in just the right place to leap clear at every jump. The second rider Pius Schwizer was anxious to avoid his time-fault from the first round riding Cortney Cox and today made sure he kept pedal to the metal. A superb display of riding and judgement handed them a clear inside the time to remain on a team total of one.
Jessica Springsteen was first in for the Miami Celtics on RMF Zecilie, a huge jumping mare with unbelievable scope and height over the fences. They took a long line to the last, but were still clear and inside the time. It was then down to the under-25 rider Michael Duffy on Quintano to try to keep the team scoresheet clean. But they ran into problems with an early rub and an early pole tumbling. Then when the final part of the triple, as well as the back rail of the following fence all hit the turf, the team’s chances also took a tumble. One time fault left the team on 13.
Another all female team, the Scandinavian Vikings remained unchanged in horses and riders from round one. Under-25 rider Evelina Tovek set out on the big-striding Dalila De La Pomme and put in a tremendous display. Cutting inside to the final fence meant they secured a clear inside the time, the third fastest so far. The experienced pairing of Danielle Goldstein with Lizziemary (LGCT Grand Prix winners in Shanghai two weeks ago) made a tremendous, fast start but rubbed the final part of triple and then took a wide line to reorganise. A late-falling pole at the penultimate fence while en route to an inside line to the last meant the team financed on four faults — not good enough for a podium finish.
Malin Baryard-Johnsson’s H&M Indiana came out fresh and strong, keen to jump. The Belgian mare got very close to the final fence but put in a huge effort to lift her shoulders and leap clear. They handed over to the 21-year-old rider Emil Hallundbaek. His horse Chalisco was firing on all cylinders, but the final part of the triple came down from the lightest of touches. He kept up the pace and the remaining fences for a final team score of four.
Martin Fuchs was again first to go, this time with the Verdi’s son Chaplin. The horse made a beautiful shape over the fences and picked up speed between them, producing a classy clear and logging the fastest round of the competition to date. He handed over to Ben Maher, who won the LGCT Grand Prix in Madrid last year. He piloted the naturally fast Explosion W, to the second fastest round. Their combined times put them a full four seconds ahead of the pack. The team remained on a clean sheet with these two fast clears and stormed to the top of the table — where they remained.
Madrid in Motion
The home team fielded father and son Eric and Maikel van der Vleuten and they set off at a slightly steadier pace than the previous two riders. Eric van der Vleuten gave the long-framed Wunschkind a great ride through the triple and coaxed a clear out of the rangy horse. It was inside the time, but decidedly slower than the London Knights. Maikel van der Vleuten’s eye-catching grey Dana Blue came out fresh and full of running. They posted a clean clear, but the long line Maikel opted for signalled that they were not trying to match the very fastest time. The podium place tactic paid off and they went into second, though by a 10-second margin.
New York Empire
The young Spencer Smith (22) came onto the team for the first time riding Theodore Manciais and with a lot of pressure riding on his round. What followed was a magnificent display of horsemanship as Spencer opened up the bay gelding between fences. He was not opting to play safe. They sailed close to the rails, losing no time in the air and posted the fastest round of the whole competition yet. Spencer drew praise for his tactful, intelligent riding. Now all the pressure was on teammate, Scott Brash, who opted for a horse change. If he could stay clear and beat the time set by the London Knights, they would win. It was nip and tuck all the way, but Scott and Hello Jefferson stopped the clock fractions of a second over to secure second place.
The GCL now turns to Hamburg, Germany, for the sixth round of the Championship race.