Christian Ahlmann (GER) took his second win of the weekend in a turbo-charged Longines Eiffel Challenge during the final day of LGCT Paris.
Piloting his 14 year old bay mare Ailina, Ahlmann fought off stiff competition from a cavalcade of international superstars, closing the weekend’s CSI5* competition in the heart of France’s capital city.
A smiling Christian said: “Ailina is a horse with a lot of experience, she’s a very nice mare. In the jump-off she’s always fighting - I’m really proud of her, she did amazing.”
With fans filling every inch of the grandstand, and VIPs including Marion Cotillard watching from the chic hospitality, the final day of competition at the Longines Global Champions Tour - Longines Paris Eiffel Jumping took place under blue skies and with the backdrop of the iconic Eiffel Tower.
44 international starters took to Gregory Bodo’s final track of the weekend, the 1.50/1.55m jump-off class Sunday’s highlight. The course featured a delicate Renault liverpool, a red and white treble set towards the in-gate, full height Longines oxer and a final line that required absolute focus and concentration - a big oxer, followed by a delicate double of verticals, set down the longside of the VIP hospitality. The time allowed of 75s was tight, with many riders finishing close to the margin.
First rider to enter the arena, Gregory Wathelet (BEL) piloted Picobello Full House Der Linden Z around the track, but four faults ruled them out of contention for a top result today.
Home hero Simon Delestre (FRA) was next to take on the challenge with Filou Carlo Zimequest - his talented 10 year old grey gelding. Fans watched in delight as the scopey horse flew around the arena, the pair delivering the first clear this afternoon.
Martin Fuchs (SUI) had to work hard with Silver Shine, the horse just falling off the bit down the final line but they were able to clear the fences, finishing cleanly and creating a jump-off. Georgina Bloomberg (USA) timed her round to absolute perfection, guiding her bay mare Quibelle around the track to finish clear and just 0.5s inside the time allowed.
There was disappointment for Cindy van der Straten (BEL) and Urban de Rohan, the pair electing to retire after the poles began to tumble. An early fault at the first Massimo Dutti oxer for Kevin Staut (FRA) and For Joy van’t Zorgvliet HDC would demolish their dream of a win today.
Scott Brash (GBR) and Hello M’Lady were caught out by the Morocco oxer, the back rail falling with their chance of reaching the jump-off.
Last night’s winner Christian Ahlmann (GER) opted to pilot his 14 year old bay mare Ailina for this final CSI5* class of the day. They too finished clear - real contenders for the win.
The final line caused trouble for Rio Olympic combination Philippe Rozier (FRA) and Rahotep de Toscane - two poles falling much to the dismay of local spectators. Others to fall foul of the challenge included Marc Houtzager (NED), Roger-Yves Bost (FRA), Karel Cox (BEL), Olivier Perreau (FRA) and Emily Moffitt (GBR) who had the final fence down.
There was drama too for Alberto Zorzi (ITA) and Vauban du Trio at the triple combination, the pair parting ways after the first element as the chestnut horse spooked upon landing. Both walked out of the arena disappointed, but would be back to contest another day.
Jos Verlooy (BEL) kept a cool head with a strong looking Varoune, paving his way into the jump-off by just tenths of a second. He would be joined by Nayel Nassar (EGY) with Oaks Redwood, Michael Whitaker (GBR) with For Fun, Julien Epaillard (FRA) with Queeletta, Bart Bles (NED) with Kiskras DV, Pieter Devos (BEL) with Espoir, Ben Maher (GBR) with Don Vito, Penelope Leprevost (FRA) with Andiamo Semilly, Abdel Saïd (EGY) with Jumpy van de Hermitage, and Jessica Springsteen (USA) with RMF Swinny du Parc.
Final rider to go Shane Breen (IRL) and Clyde V. also had drama at the treble, the 10 year old stallion pulling out a last minute stop and running into the jump. They would have another go, clearing the effort brilliantly, and pop another fence before retiring.
So it would be a 14 rider jump-off, with the riders looking to take the lion’s share of the 146,000 euros prize money.
First to return to the ring was home hero Simon Delestre, the sparky Filou Carlo Zimequest quick off the ground and tight in his turns. With his tail swishing, Filou flew to the finish, the pair throwing down the gauntlet of 39.57s.
Martin Fuchs initially looked as though they had opted for a slower, steadier pace with the 10 year old Silver Shine, but as the course unfolded their momentum built, and with a push on the gallop to the final fence and by taking out a stride, they set a new time to beat of 37.70s.
American rider Georgina Bloomberg looked focused and determined aboard Quibelle, the horse bouncing and enthusiastic to the fences. Georgina managed the horse’s keenness, checking to ensure they could keep the fences up. They finished in double clear, with a time of 41.66s.
Fresh from his LGCT Grand Prix of Paris win Christian Ahlmann (GER) was hoping to do the double today. This time with Ailina, the pair powered around the galloping course and were up at the midway point. Ahlmann took eight strides to the final fence, but their blistering pace and steady consistent rhythm meant they finished another second and a bit quicker than Fuchs - the new time to beat would be 36.40s.
Jos Verlooy set off with intent but Varoune’s huge stride couldn’t match the pace or silky smoothness of Christian’s round. They would finish clear in 38.84s. Nayel Nassar and Oaks Redwood also gave it a valiant try, but couldn’t contest for the win, finishing in 37.66s.
There was disappointment for Michael Whitaker (GBR) and his nine year old For Fun, the penultimate pole falling and dropping them out of the race.
The grandstands erupted in appreciation as speed merchant Julien Epaillard returned to the arena with Queeletta, the flying Fenchman notorious for his speedy rounds. They flew around the course, looking set to match Ahlmann’s time at the midway point but the crowd groaned as the second part of the double tumbled - they too would be out of the running.
Bart Bles and Kriskras DV jumped expressively over the fences, with a lucky rub at the double keeping their hopes of a win alive. But they swung wide down the final line, finishing clear but in a time of 38.36s.
LGCT Ranking leader Pieter Devos had all guns blazing with Espoir, the 15 year old gelding responding beautifully to Devos’ requests as they powered around the arena. But there was heartache as the penultimate vertical fell, with no chance of the win today.
Ben Maher and Don Vito kept a consistent and steady rhythm, building momentum throughout the course. They galloped down the final line, but could only cross the finish in 37.44s, slipping into second behind Ahlmann.
Penelope Leprevost and Andiamo Semilly came unstuck at the second part of the double, the young horse clipping the oxer and collecting 4 faults.
Another danger to Ahlmann’s time was Abdel Saïd and Jumpy van de Hermitage. Abdel put the pedal to the metal, galloping to the huge Longines oxer. They were up by 0.01 of a second at the midway point, but drifted wide to the final line, finishing in 36.99s and taking over second place.
Final rider to go Jessica Springsteen entered with RMF Swinny du Parc but had the second fence down, handing the victory to Christian Ahlmann for his second big win of the weekend.
The Championship now looks to Chantilly, for the 12th round of action in the 2019 race for supremacy.
Photo by LGCT/Stefano Grasso