There was a huge buzz in Paris as home hero Julien Epaillard (FRA) rode to a phenomenal Longines Global Champions Tour – Longines Paris Eiffel Jumping Grand Prix win, with his 9 year old stallion Usual Suspect D’auge.
An ecstatic Julien declared his win as “the greatest victory of [his] career” and spoke of the high quality competition and the boost from the home crowd: “It’s amazing here in Paris, here in this special place it’s fantastic. This is the first five star show for my horse and he was crazy good. It is my first time on the podium in the Global Tour, for me it is the best sport at the moment. All the best riders are here. It’s a big surprise for me. It’s amazing to ride here in this fantastic place and with the fantastic public.”
Emotionally he thanked the crowds directly, saying: “You helped me to fly today. Thank you very much to everybody.”
In the overall LGCT Rankings the leaderboard has taken another twist, as Harrie Smolders (NED) regains the lead with 185 points overall. Christian Ahlmann (GER) however is breathing down the flying Dutchman’s neck, as he sits just five points away on 180 overall. Alberto Zorzi (ITA) keeps hold of his third place with 161 points, as the Championship race gathers pace towards the second half of the season.
Under perfect blue skies and overlooked by the world famous, 324-metre high Eiffel Tower, the world’s greatest show jumpers delivered world class equestrian action at the Longines Global Champions Tour – Longines Paris Eiffel Jumping. It was full house in the grandstands as excited fans cheered their favourite riders in one of the most unique settings for top-level show jumping.
The atmosphere was amazing and guests from around the world filled the beautiful VIP Hospitality Lounges with prime views opposite the Eiffel Tower. Music legend Bruce Springsteen and his wife Patti Scialfa watched their daughter Jessica compete and golfer Lee Westwood made sure he dashed to the event from the French Open to catch the Grand Prix and said: “It is a fantastic event to be here watching this sport opposite the Eiffel Tower, it’s really unique, amazing that the Global Champions Tour has these locations.”
Fittingly for the French capital, the event reflected a rich cocktail of culture, fashion, art and interior design as guests dined in style with ringside seats of the action. Haute cuisine in the VIP came courtesy of multi Michelin-starred chef Alain Ducasse. Longines Vice President and Head of International Marketing Juan-Carlos Capelli said: “We are very happy to be back in front of the Eiffel Tower, one of the most beautiful locations in the world. We have the best riders, the best horses in the world today for the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix.” Speaking of Longines’ long association with Paris and equestrian sport Mr Capelli added: “To be back here for one of the best shows in the world, to have together glamour, sport at the highest level, gastronomy and culture matches very well with our brand.”
Uliano Vezzani put together a course with plenty of big parallels, featuring a big combination down the front of the VIP hospitality where guests watched in glorious sunshine as the riders took to the ring. Although not the most technical course on the Championship so far, it was again a delicate design from the top Italian designer, with poles rolling at the lightest of touches. With full height 1.60m fences, horses needed plenty of scope to clear the obstacles, but riders needed to balance the long gallops with tight turns and balanced combinations.
A double of verticals caught out a few, with a tricky line testing the riders including young talent Philip Houston (GER) with Loewenherz. Rio Olympic Silver Individual Medallist Peder Fredricson (SWE) was also caught out with his Olympic horse H&M All In; the pair collecting 8 faults and putting themselves out of the running. Third in the Championship Alberto Zorzi (ITA) had an unusual 13 faults with Fair Light van T Heike, collecting time faults as well as poles all around the arena and dashing their hopes of rising up the leaderboard. Eduardo Menezes (BRA) and Chacgrano were another duo who had a disappointing round, with the pair electing to retire.
First to go clear was Harrie Smolders (NED) who put in a stylish round with the huge striding stallion Don VHP Z. The crowd then erupted as Julien Epaillard (FRA) and Usual Suspect D’auge flew around the arena, flying the course to finish two seconds faster than the top Dutch rider and ensuring the passionate Parisian crowd would witness a jump-off. Olivier Philippaerts (BEL) with H&M Legend of Love were the third to go clear, with the young Belgian putting in an effortless round with the beautiful grey horse.
Overall ranking leader Christian Ahlmann (GER) was caught out by the plank, before rolling another pole to collect 8 faults with Caribis Z. Popular 2015 winner Bertram Allen (IRL) was caught out by the triple combination, before it began to unravel on Izzy By Picobello with the pair finishing with 13 faults in total. Great Britain’s Ben Maher (GBR) knocked the first element of the triple combination, as well as taking out the middle section of the Longines fence, despite the 9 year old Don Vito putting in a valiant effort. Further faults saw them tumble down the order, and out of contention for the jump-off.
Home hero Simon Delestre (FRA) raised the temperature as he set off at a gallop with Hermes Ryan. The crowd were completely silent as the pair flew around the course, looking intent on a jump-off place. Heartbreakingly they clipped the final fence, as the crowd cried out in disappointment, ruing the loss of one of their favourite riders failing to make it through. Further hopes were dashed as Kevin Staut (FRA) with Silver Deux de Virton HDC picked up 8 faults.
As blue skies shone down, it would be a three rider jump-off, with a podium guaranteed for each.
Flying Dutchman Harrie Smolders (NED) had the daunting task of first to go, with Don VHP Z raring to go out of the starting blocks. Setting off at a pace, the large striding stallion ate up the ground to the first few fences, with Smolders knowing he had to throw down the gauntlet to the two riders behind him. The pair looked cool and calm, turning back tightly to the vertical before nailing the double combination. A big gallop down the last line saw the pair set the standard at 42.13s.
The crowd erupted in cheers as home hope Julien Epaillard (FRA) with Usual Suspect D’auge entered the ring. This was the 9 year old’s first Grand Prix, and the pair didn’t disappoint. Blazing around the arena the agile horse flew over the fences, stopping the clock over two seconds faster than Smolders’ time to the delight of the crowd and taking over the lead. The turn back to the narrow oxer was sublime, propelling the pair into the lead.
Final rider to go Olivier Philippaerts (BEL) rubbed the first fence and despite keeping it clean lost balance, and spent the rest of the course trying to make up time. The pair did just that but in order to win a Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix, riders need to be foot-perfect, and Olivier just missed out, stopping the clock in 41.98s and in second place today.
Jan Tops, President and Founder, Longines Global Champions Tour: “The setting was there, the weather was there and most importantly it was absolutely top sport. Of course it’s always nice to see your own rider winning in your home nation. It was also nice to see a young rider on the podium again because that’s what it’s all about – so many younger people having the chance to ride in these great events. It’s not easy to win against the best, and these great riders deserve it – it’s a great result for them. It’s like the same as the teams – everything is really open which is the beauty. It’s very close [in the overall ranking], just one or two points. It will be great to see the rivalry until the end.”
Julien Epaillard, LGCT Paris winner: “Yes this was the first 5* Grand Prix for the horse. The horse was born at home and it was a little bit difficult at the start because it was 8 years and I had to go slowly with him and just before coming here, my mare [couldn’t come] so I tried with him this weekend. The horse always jumped good but on the first day he was a bit scared of the atmosphere. The six bar helped him a lot because he can go into the ring. He was more relaxed today for the qualification but today was a big surprise for me – to win! It’s my first time on the podium on the GCT and I tried for a long time – for me it’s the best sport and it’s my best victory today.”
Olivier Philippaerts, LGCT Paris 2nd place: “I think today was a great day. It was the first day I have been on the podium. I have been close a couple of times so I was happy to be there. I think I gave myself away a bit in the jump-off in the first three or four jumps and then I was too late to make it up. I have to blame myself because the horse was great today. The horse has been jumping so well for the last few shows, she is in good shape and hopefully I can keep her like that the rest of the season.”
Harrie Smolders, LGCT Ranking leader and 3rd place at LGCT Paris: “The first course was a very tough, very scopey. Also with the number of clears, I was the first to go in the jump-off and I think I had a very smooth round. I tried to go as fast as possible but I knew these two guys with their two horses, they’re really, really fast! [Don VHP Z] is very consistent – he’s probably one of the most consistent 1.60m horses at the moment. The last months and the last year as well so hopefully we can keep this form for the rest of the season because everything is fairly close as you can see on the leaderboard – there are some riders just behind with one result less, so I think at the end we will have an exciting leaderboard.”