In a spell-binding GCL New York, London Knights took both the weekend win and the overall 2019 Championship in one fell swoop, with drama up until the final fence today.
In what’s been a roller-coaster season, which has seen the overall lead change hands time and time again, it was the London Knights who secured a historic second title win, after Ben Maher and Martin Fuchs delivered four flawless clear rounds aboard their top horses Explosion W and Clooney 51.
The Knights finished three points ahead of St Tropez Pirates, with a total of 326 points this year. Madrid in Motion secured third in the Championship with 303 points, with the Shanghai Swans just hanging onto their fourth place meaning they too will fast-track to the semi-finals at the GCL Super Cup at the GC Prague Playoffs.
With both riders punching the air in delight after their win today, Martin Fuchs said: “It’s been a great year for me - my horse Clooney has been fantastic the whole year, and to be in such a team as the London Knights, and with Ben is special.
“Coming into this event there was a lot of pressure so we said we'd bring our two best horses, we knew had to win [to be in with a chance of the title] so its what we came for."
Ben Maher, who has been an unstoppable force in the management and strategy of the team, as well as a key star striker said: “The whole team have played a part. I think last year was an incredible season but this year we showed our full strength and depth with multiple horses, riders and combinations. We wanted to show what a strong team we are. Explosion jumped a great round, he made my life easy. We finished in style."
Fuchs agreed: "It was a big goal for us - it wasn’t as easy as last year, but this year was a very very exciting last show."
And it was a case of game, set and match as the Knights stormed the results today, with Paris Panthers’ duo of Harrie Smolders (Monaco) and Darragh Kenny (Romeo 88) taking second in New York, and Niels Bruynseels (Gancia de Muze) and Marc Houtzager (Sterrehof’s Dante) in third today.
Uliano Vezzani produced a masterpiece of a course, featuring a tricky triple combination set down the VIP hospitality, a delicate NetJets vertical, an eye-catching NY silhouetted oxer and a beautiful Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty flanked fence.
As fans packed the grandstands and flocked to the shopping village, the world’s best teams took to the arena for the final shot at the Championship rankings this year. Early local spectators were delighted as the home city team New York Empire Georgina Bloomberg, Scott Brash and Daniel Bluman handed out signed caps and posters to happy fans, arriving in style in a beautiful vintage yellow taxi.
Here’s how the action unfolded...
First to return to the ring, Monaco Aces, sent out their U25 rider first, Jos Verlooy making a horse change to his 10-year-old bay mare Jacobien Dwerse Hagen. They set off with determination and flew around the course - meeting every fence perfectly in their stride to bring home a clear. Julien Epaillard and Virtuose Champeix also set off at a fast pace, but there was heartache as the final fence - the team would finish on 24 overall.
Jur Vrieling was first for the Falcons, with KM Chalcedon - the 9-year-old grey gelding flying around the course. They took a steady but careful route, finishing clear but collecting just one time fault. Bronislav Chudyba changed horses to his 9-year-old gelding Frederiks, but the middle part of the triple combination came down and the Falcons would finish on 20 faults.
Jessica Springsteen was looking to replicate her first round clear today, the American rider allowing RMF Zecilie as much time as possible to the fences. With father Bruce Springsteen watching on, they survived a lucky rub at the stone walled water tray but produced the clear, passing the reins to teammate Harry Charles. The U25 rider made a horse change to his 13-year-old Borsato, but they had an unlucky tap of the GC Prague Playoffs plank. A time fault would add a tally of 5 to the team score, putting them on a total of 17 overall.
Flying Frenchman Simon Delestre made a horse change to Uccello de Will, but the first part of the black and white double fell - the front rail of the oxer hitting the deck after they came in a little too deep. Titouan Schumacher brought back Atome Z, the bay gelding jumping with enthusiasm. But the stone walled water tray vertical fell again, the team tumbling to 20 faults overall.
Madrid in Motion
Madrid in Motion made a rider change today, Eduardo Alvarez Aznar coming off the bench in place of Michael G Duffy. The Spanish rider brought out Seringat, the 13-year-old chestnut gelding fighting for his head around the arena. Two fences down added another 8 faults to their overnight score of 8, with Maikel van der Vleuten still to jump. Bringing back his talented 9-year-old gelding Beauville Z, the pair produced the clear, but the team would finish on 16 faults.
The Berlin Eagles made no horse or rider changes - with Malin Baryard-Johnsson first up with H&M Indiana. They produced a flawless clear, keeping the team on their overnight score of 8. The pressure was on U25 rider and Emil Hallundbaek and Chalisco, and the first part of the triple combination fell, dropping the team to a score of 12 this weekend.
There was disappointment for Cannes Stars after Abdel Saïd and Etos HBC has the NetJets vertical down, and the GC Prague Playoffs plank. 8 faults would put the team on the back foot and on 16 overall, with American star Margie Goldstein-Engle bringing out Dicas again for the second round of action. But the first part of the triple combination and the green and white oxer came down, the Stars slipping down to a score of 24.
With team owner Jennifer Gates watching on, Darragh Kenny produced a top class clear aboard Romeo 88 - the 10-year-old stallion skipping around the course and leaving all the fences up. Harrie Smolders swapped to the 10-year-old Evergate Stables owned Monaco, and their tactics paid off - a double clear for the team today and keeping them on a score of 8 faults.
Niels Bruynseels came off the bench for the Prague Lions, bringing out his top horse Gancia de Muze. They kept a flowing rhythm around the arena, securing the clear for the team. Marc Houtzager took the tightest but smoothest of turns with Sterrehof's Dante, and despite approaching plenty of challenges disunited they too finished clear - staying on their overnight score of 8 faults, and a touch slower than the Panthers on their combined time.
The Scandinavian Vikings made no horse or rider change, sending in Geir Gulliksen first with VDL Groep Quatro. But the Longines oxer fell, the back rail falling and putting the Vikings onto a score of 8. A time fault to add would make all the difference, the team tumbling to a score of 9 so far. But it was matched almost exactly by teammate Leopold van Asten and VDL Groep Miss Untouchable, the first part of the triple falling and a time fault adding another 5 faults to put them on a score of 14.
St Tropez Pirates
Current ranking leaders the St Tropez Pirates knew they couldn’t afford a fence today to keep their Championship hopes alive. Dani G. Waldman was first in piloting her top mare Lizziemary, and produced a breathtaking round - keeping the team on their overnight score of 4. Pieter Devos swapped to ride top mare Claire Z, but the middle part of the triple combination came down putting the team onto a score of 8, and a nervous wait to see what the London Knights would do.
New York Empire
With father and former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg watching on, team owner Georgina Bloomberg brought back Quibelle, but there was early heartache for the home city team after the second fence - a lantern-lined oxer - fell. The green and white oxer and the final fence both came down, the team dropping to a score of 16 overall. Scott Brash came off the bench for New York Empire, piloting Hello Mr President - but the middle part of the triple fell, and the team would finish on a score of 20 overall.
Francois Jr Mathy had an unlucky rub at the Statue of Liberty plank, Uno de la Roque just tipping the fence to the floor. With the team now on 8 faults U25 rider Constant van Paesschen brought back his chestnut stallion and kept calm under enormous pressure to produce a clear - the team would stay on 8 faults, but behind the Pirates on their combined time.
First of the teams on a zero score, Marcus Ehning made a horse change to A La Carte NRW - the 11-year-old bay stallion flying around the course. But the GC Prague Playoffs plank fell, the team tumbling to a score of 4 faults. Alberto Zorzi kept his ride on dark bay stallion Cinsey, but there was drama after the first part of the triple combination fell and the team tumbled to a total of 8, behind the Pegasus team on time.
Final team to go London Knights knew a solid result today would win them the 2019 Championship, and made no changes to their horse or rider line-up. First in Martin Fuchs brought back the experienced grey gelding Clooney 51. Martin and Clooney looked in perfect harmony, flying around the arena and leaving every fence up. They did their part, with the pressure falling firmly on the shoulders of Ben Maher and Explosion W. With every breath held, the pair flew around the course, and with a final swish of the tail, cleared the last oxer to secure both the win in New York and the 2019 Championship title.
Photo: Stefano Grasso