It would be a thrilling final day of competition for the Longines Global Champions Tour of Valkenswaard as Brazilian superstar Marlon Módolo Zanotelli (BRA) took a brilliant win with Celena VDL.
As the very best horses and riders in the world rounded off a wonderful weekend of top sport, the popular rider took the lion’s share of the €92,000 prize purse – fending off 17 other riders in a nail-biting jump-off.
The sun came out for the final day of action at the spectacular Tops International Arena, as a high-octane race to the finish saw an edge-of-the-seat gallop to the last. Dutch fans had double celebrations as Leopold van Asten (NED) with VDL Groep Miss Untouchable took a strong second – just tenths behind Zanotelli’s time – and Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) with VDL Groep Quatro finished in third.
A delighted Marlon said of his horse: “She’s amazing, I’m so happy to have a horse like that. I have to thank the VDL team to have a horse like this. It’s a huge win for me, we’re so happy and delighted to have the support of everyone behind us. I walked away and tried not to watch too much, I did what I had to do in the ring and thankfully today it paid off.”
Uliano Vezzani’s 1.50m course once again featured some spooky hedge-filled square oxers as well as the narrow bicycle vertical – set on a half distance with eye-catching wings. A big oxer following meant riders needed plenty of horsepower to clear the obstacle, and a double of liverpools set along the longside of the arena where public stood just moments away from the world’s best meant that riders had to keep their horses’ focus over the delicate poles.
The triple combination was another troublemaker, with many having the middle element down including Italian star Alberto Zorzi (ITA) with Ego van Orti and Marcus Ehning (GER) who had the first part down with Gin Chin van het Lindenhof.
First to go Alexandra Thornton (GBR) put in a foot-perfect round with Charielle, the pathfinder for the field yet to come. Fresh from yesterday’s Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Valkenswaard presented by Sapinda win, Lorenzo de Luca (ITA) pulled out another stunning round, this time with the expressive Limestone Grey. Hot on his heels and looking dangerous was top French rider Simon Delestre (FRA) with speedy chestnut gelding Chesall Zimequest, who added their clear to the jump-off tally.
There was an unusual refusal from Jessica Springsteen (USA) and her speed horse Davendy, and World Number 1 Kent Farrington (USA) was knocked out of the running with grey gelding Dublin after collecting four faults.
Andreas Kreuzer (GER) and the nine year old Deluxe Ilton put in a brilliant round – the pair not long together but looking in perfect synergy as they tackled the challenging course. Home favourite Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) looked to be flying form this weekend after a superb round with VDL Groep Quatro had the local spectators cheering from the grandstands. They would have plenty to root for as he was joined by father Eric van der Vleuten (NED) with Wunschkind 19, Johnny Pals (NED) with Wesselina and Leopold van Asten (NED) with VDL Groep Miss Untouchable.
The young combination of Jos Verlooy (BEL) and Igor also looked to be on sensational form this weekend, with the pair delivering yet another clear round. He would be joined by Sergio Alvarez Moya (ESP) with Carlo 273, Jérôme Guery (BEL) with Garfield de Tiji Des Templiers, Marlon Módolo Zanotelli (BRA) with Celena VDL, Nayel Nassar (EGY) with Hija van Strokapelleken, Piergiorgio Bucci (ITA) with Diesel GP du Bois Madame, Jack Towell (USA) with Emilie de Diamant A S, Olivier Philippaerts (BEL) with Ikker, Marco Kutscher (GER) with Clenur and Daniel Deusser (GER) with Cortani, making a total of 18 who would return for what promised to be a thrilling jump-off.
Alexandra Thornton (GBR) returned to the ring first of all with her bay mare Charielle, the pair putting in a tidy round to stop the clock at 43.53s. Poles fell for Daniel Deusser (GER) and Cortani, as well as Nayel Nassar with Hija van Strokapelleken. Lorenzo de Luca (ITA) made a phenomenal turn back to the Longines vertical, but Limestone Grey kicked out the plank, and the final fence, ruling them out of the running.
Drama came as Marco Kutscher (GER) took the Sapinda oxer at an angle, one too sharp for the large striding Clenur, and the big bay horse refused at the last minute.
Olivier Philippaerts (BEL) put in a strong round with Ikker, keeping steady to better Thornton’s time and set the new time to beat at 40.74s. The crowd were then treated to a masterclass of a jump-off as home rider Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) put in a flier of a round with VDL Groep Quatro, finishing in 39.56s.
Jerome Guery (BEL) took a nice line to the first fence, taking a tight route around the first few fences with Garfield de Tiji Des Templiers, however it started to unravel after the grey horse took a pull, ploughing into the distances and taking out the fences.
The temperature would rise as Brazilian Marlon Módolo Zanotelli (BRA) with Celena VDL. The pair put their foot down as they came out of the double, with a perfect angle approach to the Sapinda oxer, galloping to the last to finish a full second faster in 38.10s.
Piergiorgio Bucci (ITA) with Diesel GP du Bois Madame and Jack Towell (USA) with Emilie de Diamant A S both gave it their best effort, but played it safe to keep it clear and couldn’t better the Brazilian’s time. Andreas Kreuzer (GER) played the long game, with a steady schooling clear for his young mount Deluxe Ilton.
Further drama came when Sergio Alvarez Moya (ESP) and Carlo 273 took a sharp angle to the first, setting themselves up for the course to come. But it wasn’t to be as the fence came down, with the back bar falling from the oxer – a disappointing result for the normally speedy combo. Simon Delestre (FRA) also collected four faults with Chesall Zimequest, ruling them out of a top three position.
Eric van der Vleuten (NED) had the crowd gasping with a wonderful turn to the Longines vertical with Wunschkind 19. A perfect rhythm through the double kept the duo up on time, but they lost ground in the final part and were unable to better Zanotelli’s time, slotting in just behind son Maikel in 40.23s.
The crowd were on the edge of their seat as Leopold van Asten (NED) made a handbrake turn to the Longines vertical, spectators gasping as VDL Groep Miss Untouchable leapt her heart out for the Dutch rider. They looked quick, galloping through the final fences, but finished just shy of Zanotelli’s time, in 38.79s.
Final rider to go was the young Belgian talent Jos Verlooy (BEL) with Igor. The pair looked impressive from the off, making a strong turn back and flying through the double with Igor’s strides eating up the ground. But they lost time on the turn to the penultimate fence, and despite a lightning quick gallop to the last they had to settle for a time of 40.42s.
So it would be Marlon’s day, with the delighted Brazilian praising his ‘amazing’ horse. The Tour now heads to Rome, Italy for the 13th leg of the Championship race as the battle for the title comes to it’s thrilling climax.