Harrie Declared 2017 Champion In Historic LGCT Victory

Harrie Smolders LGCT Rome
Photo: LGCT / Stefano Grasso

Harrie Smolders (NED) has dramatically won the 2017 Longines Global Champions Tour title making history with victory before the final leg has even played out.

The Flying Dutchman declared “it feels great” and said he was “really, really honoured” as he celebrated following a spectacular Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Rome, which was won by rising star Evelina Tovek (SWE) aboard her phenomenal dapple grey gelding, the 9 year old Castello 194. Marcus Ehning and Funky Fred were third on the podium in the Italian capital.

Clearly emotional after his landmark win, Smolders spoke of the extraordinary calibre of previous champions, both human and equine, and his pride that his name will join the illustrious athletes on the coveted Longines Global Champions Tour trophy. His phenomenally consistent scorecard on the circuit included an LGCT Grand Prix win in Chantilly, podium finishes in Paris, Hamburg and Rome and fourth and fifth places in London, Shanghai and Miami Beach.

He credited his achievement as LGCT Champion of Champions to his high performing stallions Don VHP Z and Emerald allowing him to switch between the superstar horses during the formidable tests of the world class series.

Smolders’ lead in the overall ranking going into the 14th leg of the LGCT season in Rome meant there was a chance he would emerge as champion before the final leg in Qatar. The 1.60m LGCT Grand Prix is always a supreme challenge and Uliano Vezzani’s course was a formidable test including colourful fences depicting iconic Rome landmarks. First to go clear was the masterful Marcus Ehning (GER) with Funky Fred, the top German rider with a proven track record of success in Rome. Guiding the gleaming chestnut around the course, the crowd gasped in appreciation as one of the smoothest riders on the circuit put in a foot-perfect round, making the tough course look effortless.

But it was anything but plain sailing. With tension running high and the potential to decide the Championship, a shock result from the earlier qualifying competition saw both Christian Ahlmann (GER) and Alberto Zorzi (ITA) fail to qualify for the Grand Prix. That left Smolders able to take the title if he held his nerve and finished on the podium and if close contender Lorenzo de Luca finished lower than 6th place.

An anxious wait ensued as thousands of spectators lining the stone amphitheatre watched to see how the title race would play out. As others took their turn, it became clear that Vezzani’s challenge was a real test, as big names such as Eric Lamaze (CAN) with Coco Bongo, Sergio Alvarez Moya (ESP) with Carlo 273, and John Whitaker (GBR) with Argento all failed to jump clear.

It all fell apart for the Frenchman Roger-Yves Bost (FRA) and Sunshine du Phare, after their round began to unwind when the liver chestnut dropped a back foot through an oxer. A scary moment as Sunshine napped back towards in the gate, and a further loss of concentration meant the popular rider picked up an unusual 27 faults. Others tried, and failed, to ensure a jump-off. Poles rolled across the field as Kevin Staut (FRA) with For Joy van’t Zorgvliet HDC, Peder Fredricson (SWE) with H&M Christian K, Cian O’Connor (IRL) with Skyhorse and Marco Kutscher (GER) with Clenur all fell short of the clear.

Anticipation mounted as Harrie Smolders (NED) entered the arena with his top stallion Don VHP Z. The pair had previously won the LGCT Grand Prix of Rome in 2016, and all eyes were on the former winner to see if he could repeat victory in Rome. A magnificent clear had fans gasping. They were into the jump-off.

Only Lorenzo de Luca (ITA) could stop Smolders’ charge for the Championship and he entered the arena to a roaring crowd with top stallion Halifax van het Kluizebos. Spectators held their breath as de Luca cruised around the arena, hoping they would have an Italian in the jump-off. But the first part of the Longines treble came down after Halifax clipped the pole with his hind legs, dropping the pair down the order and meaning the Dutchman would potentially claim the Championship.

Rising Swedish star Evelina Tovek, 24, (SWE) was the youngest of the field to start the Grand Prix, but her phenomenal partnership with Castello 194 delivered a spectacular round on the dapple grey 9 year old gelding. One of the final riders to go Scott Brash (GBR) and Hello Forever looked strong as they flew around the course, but an agonising four faults came as Hello Forever trailed a hind leg at the Longines oxer putting them out of contention, despite being the quickest of the four faults.

So it would be a three rider jump-off, with the crowd hungry for the final act of a spell-binding LGCT Grand Prix.

First to go Marcus Ehning (GER) had the hardest task, throwing down the gauntlet to Smolders and Tovek. The pair galloped the course, eating up the long distances and powering around the corners. But it came undone at the oxer heading back to the in-gate, as Funky Fred agonisingly came in a little too deep and clipped the pole. Ehning would have to hope the pressure would get too much for the two remaining riders, with his time of 47.90s setting the pace.

Harrie Smolders on Don VHP Z
Harrie Smolders on Don VHP Z. Photo: LGCT / Stefano Grasso

Harrie Smolders (NED) returned to the ring with Don VHP Z, the pair knowing a safe clear would put them in first or second. Smolders guided the huge stallion around the course, deceptively quick around the sand arena, to stop the clock clear in 52.43s.

The pressure was well and truly on the young shoulders of Swedish talent Evelina Tovek. This would be the toughest jump-off of her career, and the question was whether to play it safe and guarantee second, or go for it and potentially steal the win. It would be a case of fortune favours the brave, as Tovek flew around the arena with Castello 194, up on Smolders’ time coming out of the Longines treble. It was clear the relationship between horse and rider was strong, and the pair galloped to the final fences with the win in sight.

The crowd were on their feet as the duo stopped the clock in 50.71s, over a second faster and Tovek’s biggest career win to date.

Jan Tops, President and Founder Longines Global Champions Tour: “It is amazing to see new faces, building young riders. If you watched Evelina since the opening of the year doing quite well but still inexperienced at this level and then every event getting better and better and more confident. It is a great achievement in these difficult classes competing against the best riders in the world, this is a great success for Evelina. That is what the Tour is about. If you want to compete at the highest level you can only do that competing in these difficult classes. Many young riders start like this getting their confidence, riding with great riders and then performing well in championships.

“With Uliano (Vezzani, course designer) he is always consistent. You don’t see any bad things for the horses. It was a difficult class but to win these prestigious classes you have to be very strong. It is our horses which are important to have them at this level and to keep them at this level.

“I think Harrie had an incredible year. He was six or seven times on the podium. Second in the European Championships. That is what it is about jumping these clear round. He is one of the great winners like Scott. It is really well deserved. It is the first time it is not decided in the last leg. Doha is a fantastic event, amazing place and the best riders and horses will be there and for the GCL there is big pressure on to win the championship.”

Eleonora Di Giuseppe, Event Co-ordinator LGCT Rome: “Not only as a member of the organising committee but also as a member of the Italian Equestrian Federation Rome we would like to thank [the riders] and their horses for three days of spectacular sport in Italy. I would especially like to thank Jan Tops because it’s very important for our country, and Italian Equestrian sport to have a Global Champions Tour here. It is a good time for Italy and Italian riders, and we would like to thank Jan for everything he has done for us.”

Evelina Tovek, LGCT Rome 1st place: “It’s the biggest win of my career – it’s amazing. I know my horse is not so fast but has big strides, so I asked a lot from the canter and in the end it worked! [Henrik von Eckermann, my trainer] said “just have fun” before I went in. For me Casello is the perfect horse, no fence is a problem, and I’m really happy to have him.”

Harrie Smolders, 2017 LGCT Champion of Champions, LGCT Rome 2nd place: “My horse loves this venue, which is why I brought him out here again. It worked out fantastic today – I was not expecting to win [the Championship] today. It’s been an incredible season for me with my top horses Don and Emerald – it’s also thanks to my partners Copernicus and Eurohorse behind me. Our goal was not to be the fastest today, but I wanted to keep clear.

“It feels great to be Champion. You see the previous winners, the horses and riders are exceptional – so to see my name on the trophy is [special]. It’s a big achievement for all my owners, our staff and everyone who works in our stable, from flat riders to the grooms – it’s also for them. In the end I have to finish but they all achieve this with me. The flexibility [of horses] is my strength – we have so many shows, but that’s why I can sometimes use Don VHP Z and sometimes use Emerald. They did an unbelievable job.”

Marcus Ehning, LGCT Rome 3rd place: “I was first in the jump-off, with a very fast horse. I could put some pressure on the other two. In the end I was too deep and had one down – I think the time would have been enough though! It’s not my first time in the jump-off, I like this pressure, it’s great motivation, but it didn’t work out this time.”

For full results, please click here.

Diamonds Extend Lead As GCL Championship Goes Down to the Wire

Hamburg Diamonds Rome
Photo: GCL / Stefano Grasso

Hamburg Diamonds doubled their lead over arch rivals Valkenswaard United at the Global Champions League in Rome as the 2017 team championship goes down to the wire in November’s final in Qatar.

The formidable duo of Harrie Smolders and Eric Lamaze were the epitome of grace under pressure keeping ice-cool heads in a high-octane GCL in the Italian capital to take an emphatic win and keep their Championship dream alive. The Diamonds are on top of the leaderboard on 295 points with United on 278 points pulling even further ahead of St Tropez Pirates, Miami Glory, Mexico Amigos and London Knights.

Starting off on the back-foot, the Diamonds toppled Valkenswaard United off pole position after Round 1, winning today’s event and consolidating their lead in the overall Championship. Despite a valiant attempt from Marcus Ehning and Alberto Zorzi, United couldn’t match the Diamonds today and had to settle for third place setting up a thrilling finale in Doha. 2nd today went to Miami Glory with masterful clear rounds today from the ever-consistent teammates Scott Brash and Denis Lynch.

Fans basked in glorious sunshine as they settled in to watch an afternoon of top sport. Uliano Vezzani rose to the occasion in his home country, crafting a phenomenally clever course which posed a true test to the top riders in the world. The treble combination – set against the packed grandstand – caused the most problems with plenty caught out on the distance to the vertical in. The combination took no prisoners, with no room for error as riders fought to keep their horses in check while also pushing for enough power at the formidable oxer out. The plank, sandwiched by wings depicting the Colosseum, also caught out a few, as did the intimidating Romulus and Remus wall on the run to home.

First to go, U25 rider Evelina Tovek of Mexico Amigos, put in an impressive round to jump clear on Castello 194, but the heavy score for the team from yesterday meant they would not be on the podium and not able to improve on their 3rd place overall. Young talent would shine today, as 19 year old Emily Moffitt of the London Knights put in a second superb clear for the team with Hilfiger van de Olmenhoeve, but picked up an agonising time fault.

The pressure was on the overall leaders Hamburg Diamonds as Eric Lamaze took centre stage. Only a double clear from the team, and hope of a pole or two for Valkenswaard United, would ensure they could be on the podium and in with a chance of keeping the ranking lead. However, Lamaze kept his cool with Chacco Kid to deliver a stunning round, speedy and clear to keep the team in the running.

The crowd were on the edge of their seats as Alberto Zorzi entered with Fair Light van T Heike for Valkenswaard United. A clear would put further pressure on the shoulders of Diamonds rider Harrie Smolders, but it wasn’t to be as the tricky treble caught the United rider out. Zorzi managed a scary moment at the wall, and flew to the last but clipped the final pole to take the team total to 8.

As the second riders prepared for their rounds, anticipation intensified as there was just one pole separating the top five teams.

Home hero Lorenzo de Luca had been pulled off the bench for the Rome Gladiators, and entered the arena to a huge applause. All around the stadium spectators held their breath as the popular rider took the course in his stride, guiding top stallion Halifax van het Kluizebos beautifully around the challenging round. A gallop to the huge oxer to finish and the passionate home crowd erupted in appreciation as de Luca went clear, ensuring the Rome Gladiators would finish in 12th.

Earlier Scott Brash of Miami Glory pulled out all the stops again with Hello Forever, putting in a foot-perfect round to keep the team in contention for a podium. Ice-cool teammate Denis Lynch put in another solid round with RMF Echo, to keep the team on a score of 9.

Happy Harrie Smolders and Eric Lamaze after their win in GCL of Rome. Photo: GCL / Stefano Grasso
Happy Harrie Smolders and Eric Lamaze after their win in GCL of Rome. Photo: GCL / Stefano Grasso

Silence fell as Harrie Smolders of the Hamburg Diamonds cantered into the ring with top stallion Don VHP Z. All eyes were on the pair, where only a clear could keep their title hopes alive. The Dutchman delivered with a remarkable round putting the team in the best possible position.

The atmosphere could be cut with a knife as final rider to go Marcus Ehning entered the ring for Valkenswaard United. Only a phenomenally quick clear would keep the win for the team, but he had the hot stallion Comme il Faut to do it. The pair flew around the arena, taking the course beautifully. But it all come down to the final fence, as the culmination of a fantastic competition saw the duo clip the GCL oxer, the crowd groaning in despair for Ehning.

So despite starting off on the back foot, the formidable pairing of Lamaze and Smolders took the win for the Diamonds, keeping hold of the Championship lead and ensuring a nail-biting team showdown on the magnificent stage of Al Shaqab in Qatar in November.

Jan Tops, Co-Founder Global Champions League: “There was a great atmosphere here today and a real Latin flavour and people stayed until after the prize giving. It was a special atmosphere. Yesterday Valkenswaard United started amazing with a double clear, Alberto wasn’t too well today and had two down, Marcus one, so they moved to third. Eric and Harrie came back very strong – their professionalism and form was clear, it was great sport.

“It’s not over until it’s over, but the Diamonds have strengthened their position in the Championship. It will be an exciting finish.”

Eric Lamaze, Hamburg Diamonds, 1st place: “I felt I needed a good performance. We felt very good about our chances but we definitely had to come from behind and put some pressure on. My horse is a bit quicker than Harrie’s. The strategy is to try to be clear and quick and it worked out for us today.”

Harrie Smolders, Hamburg Diamonds, 1st place: “So far it is going to plan but every round counts so in Doha it can still go wrong. But we have had a very strong season. Our start was not too good but Eric put us back on track with his amazing performance. ”

Scott Brash, Miami Glory, 2nd place: “Uliano did a wonderful job in Rome. We both felt that course was really tough and we thought if we can just go clear we had a good chance of being on the podium. We will keep fighting to the end.”

Denis Lynch, Miami Glory, 2nd place: “We have a strong [rapport] in the team. I am very lucky I have a great string of horses now, and we all profit from it.”

Marcus Ehning, Valkenswaard United, 3rd place: “We were very motivated out there today. We tried to do our best to beat the Diamonds but it was not to be. It was a shame [not to win] but we are on the podium and it will come down to Doha. We have strong riders who want to go to Doha, so we’ll see which three will go depending on their horses.”

For full results, please click here.

Delestre Wraps Up Rome with Turbo-Charged Win

Simon Delestre LGCT Rome
Photo: LGCT / Stefano Grasso

Simon Delestre (FRA) and Chesall Zimequest powered to a turbo-charged win at the final day of the Longines Global Champions Tour of Rome, beating a world-class field to finish a four-day spectacle of show jumping.

Delestre and Chesall proved there’s no place like Rome, after their third CSI5* win in the three years the event has been held in Italy’s capital – the duo clearly at home in the spectacular setting. Second went to Denis Lynch (IRL) with RMF Bella Baloubet, with the newly-formed partnership of Daniel Deusser (GER) and the eye-catching gelding Cornet in third.

A delighted Simon said: “Chesall did a fantastic job today. It’s the third time he came here to Rome – every year he’s won a big class here, so it’s fantastic to have a horse like him. I’m very proud today. Rome is a fantastic city, we’ve been lucky with the weather this year and it’s great to be here – so to win like this is something special.”

Fans filled every seat on the final day of competition, their final chance this weekend to witness the world’s best perform in the magnificent Stadio dei Marmi arena. Blue skies and wall-to-wall sunshine would provide the perfect backdrop to the €92,000 class, as spectators and VIPs watched the action unfold.

Course designer Uliano Vezzani pieced together a flowing test. The trickiest part seemed to be the double of liverpools, decorated with grapes and featuring gappy verticals. The utmost control was needed to manage the distance, with the most delicate of touches causing the poles to fall.

The first to go clear was Gerco Schröder (NED) with Glock’s Dobelensky, the experienced Dutch rider setting the task for the field to follow. And they soon came thick and fast. Once again the ever-consistent machine that is Marcus Ehning (GER) piloted Funky Fred clear, the stunning chestnut stallion’s coat glinting in the sunlight as they cleared the fences. Young talent Kevin Jochems (NED) soon impressed again by following suit with Alcazar Sitte, quickly followed by the likes of John Whitaker (GBR) with Argento, Denis Lynch (IRL) with RMF Bella Baloubet and Lauren Hough (USA) with Quantas 15.

Paolo Paini (ITA) with Ottava Meraviglia di Ca’ San G took out the final fence, much to the disappointment of the local fans. There was further dismay as home hero Lorenzo de Luca (ITA) dramatically clattered into the wing of the lightpost oxer with Limestone Grey, taking out the fence and running them out of contention, and Alberto Zorzi (ITA) elected to retire after an unusual 12 faults on Contanga 3.

Scott Brash (GBR) flew around the arena with the impressive Ursula XII, shooting straight to the top of the leaderboard with the fastest time so far and sealing his place in the jump-off. Bassem Hassan Mohammed (QAT) with Argelith Squid, Daniel Deusser (GER) with Cornet, David Will (GER) with Monodie H, Ludger Beerbaum (GER) with Chacon, Simon Delestre (FRA) with Chesall Zimequest, Carlos Lopez (COL) with Ulhane de Conde, Geir Gulliksen (NOR) with Edesa S Banjan and young rider Lillie Keenan (USA) with Super Sox.

So it would be a 15-rider jump-off, with the €92,000 a hotly contested prize. Vezzani’s revised course was a pedal-to-the-metal race to the finish, mixing signature roll-backs to delicate verticals and a flat out gallop to the last. With 15 world class riders to come, every millisecond would count as the riders strategised their turns, pace and strides.

Drama unfolded as Gerco Schröder (NED) with Glock’s Dobelensky threw in a sudden refusal at penultimate fence. Napping back to the in-gate, the pair ruled themselves out of contention for a place in the top three.

First to throw down the gauntlet once again was Ehning, the much loved rider starting proceedings with a tip of his hat. Putting in a tidy round with Funky Fred, the pair stopped the clock at 36.57s, with the door ajar for the field to come.

The pressure was on, and it was too much for many of the field who followed. Bassem Hassan Mohammed (QAT), David Will (GER), Ludger Beerbaum (GER), and Scott Brash (GBR) all picked up faults after brave tries, pushing hard to better the time to beat.

Denis Lynch (IRL) and RMF Bella Baloubet cruised into the lead after a blisteringly quick round saw them up on Ehning’s time by a couple of seconds. The new time to beat was 34.49s with the pressure cranked up another notch for the field to come.

Kevin Jochems (NED) put in a superb round with Alcazar Sitte, the Dutch talent managing his chestnut horse beautifully to bring home a double clear in 38.62s. Daniel Deusser (GER) and the eye-catching Cornet looked to be hot on the heels of Lynch, with a flier to the penultimate fence to stop the clock in 34.76s on the finish.

Further drama unfolded as Lauren Hough (USA) came off Quantas 15 after the 10 year old bay gelding screeched to a stop after a tight turn to the double. Both horse and rider were instantly up on their feet after sliding through the fence, both unharmed but meaning they would be out of the running.

A valiant effort from John Whitaker (GBR) and Argento had the crowd up on their feet as the popular rider galloped to stop the clock in 34.96s. Similarly Carlos Lopez (COL) with Ulhane de Conde and Geir Gulliksen (NOR) with Edesa S Banjan jumped clear, but couldn’t better their time.

Simon Delestre (FRA) and Chesall Zimequest entered the ring – the pair securing a win in Rome previously. The Hermes Ambassador looked to be on a level-pegging with Lynch until they powered to the finish, flying to the last to stop the clock just ahead in 33.80s. There was ecstatic reaction in the Hermes Riders’ Lounge, placed on the edge of the arena, as the flying Frenchman took over the lead.

Last to go Lillie Keenan (USA) had all the pressure on her young shoulders, but couldn’t match the Frenchman’s time with Super Sox, crossing the line in 35.47s to finish in fifth.

So the final win went to Delestre, who wraps up a wonderful weekend of top sport and entertainment in Italy’s capital. The Tour now looks to Doha, Qatar, and the final event of the 15-leg Championship. While Smolders has taken the overall title, the battle for the final podium continues, while the Global Champions League will see a thrilling two-horse race to the finish.

To see the full results, please click here.

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