There was major upset at the Global Champions League of Valkenswaard after the heavyweight Hamburg Diamonds knocked home city team Valkenswaard United off the Championship lead with a phenomenal win in the reigning champions’ backyard.
Harrie Smolders and Jos Verlooy delivered a formidable two rounds to take the top spot for the Diamonds, with the team collecting a tally of 265 points – eight points clear of nearest rivals Valkenswaard United who sit on 257 points. Second today went to Madrid in Motion after home heros Leopold van Asten and Maikel van der Vleuten jumped the only double clear in a difficult, technical course. Third went to the Cascais Charms, featuring in-form Carlos Lopez and young German talent Andreas Kreuzer.
Spectators flocked to the spectacular Tops International Arena to witness the world’s best in action for the GCL of Valkenswaard final, and the 13th leg in the hotly contested Championship race. VIPs, including Bruce and Patti Springsteen who watched their daughter Jessica compete for the Shanghai Swans, had the perfect view of the huge sand arena, as the rain held off for an afternoon of top sport and entertainment.
Course designer Uliano Vezzani ramped up the challenges for the riders, producing a technical course set to test the best and leaving little room for error as they battled for valuable ranking points. The biggest troublemaker was the final line, with a big oxer off a turn before the option of four or five strides – many were caught out as they pushed too hard, or checked and lost power. Other poles rolled at the Global Champions League combination as riders came in too deep to the second part, as well as the tulip double set down the length of the VIP. Another wide oxer down the longside of the arena where spectators stood watching the action required full focus from both horse and rider, and the skinny bicycle fence made a return with its gappy poles, and bright blue colour catching the eye of many horses.
It would be a big scoring weekend, as many of the team riders failed to jump cleanly, adding to their combined tally from yesterday’s result.
The crowd roared in approval after Leopold van Asten of the Madrid in Motion team went clear with VDL Beauty, with the local rider punching the air in delight after they tackled the tricky final line. Extra pressure was heaped onto the shoulders of compatriot and teammate Maikel van der Vleuten who needed a strong result to keep the team up the order. Chantilly Pegasus’ rider Sergio Alvarez Moya put in a stunning round to finish clear, as did Gregory Wathelet of the Vienna Eagles with Eldorado van het Vijverhof, but their team tally would mean they would stay off the podium this weekend despite their valiant try.
Drama came as Valkenswaard United’s Alberto Zorzi took out the GCL combination with Fair Light van T Heike, adding another four faults to their four carried over from yesterday. But their hopes of keeping hold of the Championship title was not lost, after Jos Verlooy of the Hamburg Diamonds rolled a pole at the very same oxer, leaving just a fence in hand for the final two team riders to battle with.
Miami Glory’s Scott Brash looked ice cool with Ursula XII, powering around the course to try match teammate Paris Sellon’s superb round from earlier. But the crowd groaned as the pair rolled the final fence, collecting four faults to add to their overall score. Doha Fursan Qatar’s Bassem Hassan Mohammed put in a steady round with the big striding Gunder, jumping clear to the delight of his teammates but picking up an agonising time fault.
Cheers rang out once more after Maikel van der Vleuten of Madrid in Motion went clear on top stallion VDL Groep Verdi TN – matching his teammate’s clear to shoot the team up the results to second overall, a popular podium with the local spectators.
Further shock came, after Marcus Ehning picked up another four faults with Funky Fred for Valkenswaard United meaning the team would fall further down the order. All eyes would be on Dutch hero Harrie Smolders and his top stallion Emerald as they entered the ring with the weight of the Championship resting on their shoulders. The crowd watched with baited breath as Smolders cruised around the arena, the scopey Emerald making short work of the course before taking the turn for the final, challenging line. The crowd were on the edge of their seat as Emerald came a little deep to the oxer, but recovered jumping cleanly and on through the final two fences. Cheers and whistles went up as the popular rider went clear, with teammate Jos celebrating from the kiss n’ cry. The clear would mean the Hamburg Diamonds would take the win, as well as move back up to the overall rankings where they now take back the lead.
It looks to be a twohorse race to the finish and with just 8 points between the Diamonds and United, every fence will count as the battle for the Championship gallops on. The League now looks to Rome, Italy, where the penultimate round of the 15-leg Championship will take centre stage in the beautiful Stadio dei Marmi.