Less than a second separated first to fourth place in a nail-biting battle over a taxing technical track that challenged even the most experienced combinations, including 9 out of the top 10 riders in the world.
Last weekend fairy-tale Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of London Presented by Sapinda saw Olympic 2012 gold medallists Scott Brash and Ben Maher take the top spot to the delight of the packed grandstands. Sunday’s final CSI5* at the Longines Global Champions Tour of London was just as hotly contested, with spectators flocking to the venue to watch the world’s best battle it out for the final time this weekend. Dubbed the ‘mini-Grand Prix’ by commentators, it saw 54 combinations take to the arena as the sun shone down on the South Grounds of the beautiful Royal Hospital Chelsea.
With a large field of high quality horses and riders, Uliano Vezzani created a clever and demanding course over a 1.45/1.50m track that got bigger and bigger. There were several large oxers and two tricky half-stride combinations to test riders, who were seen pacing the distances more than once during the course walk to decide whether to go for it or chop in a stride.
Time became a factor for those who went carefully including Darragh Kenny (IRE); Lorenzo de Luca (ITA); Daniel Deusser (GER); Rodrigo Pessoa (BRA); Bertram Allen (IRE) and Nayel Nassar (EGY), who suddenly found themselves outside the prize money despite not knocking a single fence – an agonising time fault ruling them out of contention. The double also caused problems for Daniel Bluman (ISR); Jos Verlooy (BEL) and Laura Kraut (USA).
A total of 12 combinations went through to a testing jump-off littered with tight turns and long gallops. First to go was Jack Towell (USA) on New York, who set the pace with a hairpin turn from the second fence to the London Underground vertical to go clear on a fast time of 38.85s.
The twisty course proved tricky for some combinations, who were not strategic with their speed. Tiffany Foster (CAN) and her dark bay gelding Brighton were unlucky to have the second fence down in an otherwise smooth round. Although Garfield de Tiji Des Tempiers ate up the ground, Jerome Guery (BEL) similarly finished on four faults when he knocked the last part of the double. Michael Whitaker (GBR) put in a rapid round and took the last at a gallop, but spectators groaned as the top pole rolled to the floor.
Just as Towell’s time looked impossible to beat, Henrik von Eckerman (SWE) and Mary Lou 194 entered the ring. He jumped the second at an angle to make the tightest of turns to the London Underground fence and galloped the back half of the course to go clear and into first on unbeatable time of 37.67s.
Lauren Hough (USA) looked to be a contender until her bay gelding Adare took a dislike to the Sapinda fence and the pair were eliminated.
Alberto Zorzi (ITA) rode a characteristically controlled and stylish round on his big gelding Living the Dream, but he stopped the clock just outside the time on 37.87s which was good enough for third. Intent to fight for top spot, Simon Delestre (FRA) started the jump-off on Chesall Zimequest at a gallop, but was economical with his speed over the first half of the course before gunning it down the back straight to go into second on 37.78s.
Fresh off his wins on Saturday in the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of London presented by Sapinda and Global Champions League competitions, Scott Brash entered the ring to a loud cheer from the crowd. His mare Hello Annie was slow over the London Underground fence, but flew around the course. Brash steadied her for the last and was just outside the time on 38.59 to finish in fourth.
The final rider to go was Niels Bruynseels (BEL) who knew he knew he had to go for it. Like Whitaker, he took each fence at a gallop on Gancia de Muze but was unlucky and looked to be fast until he had the final fence down.
Henrik von Eckerman, first place, said: “It was a close call. I was a little bit lucky on my part as Michael had a rail down and was fast, but mine stayed up and it was good. She is a fantastic horse and came third in the World Cup final. I have been called up at the Europeans and this was the last show before that, so it feels really good to go there with a win. I was a bit nervous about the likes of Scott [Brash] and Simon [Delestre] coming after me. I knew that they would catch me if they had a good round – but I had luck on my side today!”
As the Chelsea Pensioners lined up for the final prize giving, Henrik von Eckerman collected his prize from General Sir Charles Redmon Watt. The decorated veteran and former Commander-in-Chief of the Land Command is Governor of Royal Hospital Chelsea, host of the thrilling weekend of top class show jumping against the dramatic vista of Sir Christopher Wren’s architecture.
Release date: 06/08/2017
Photo: LGCT / Stefano Grasso