Championship down to the wire after Luciana’s Vienna victory

The 2015 championship will come down to the wire after tonight’s Grand Prix cliffhanger in Vienna was won by Luciana Diniz (POR) setting up an epic series climax.

With a €1 million bonus at stake at the final in Qatar, three of the world’s top riders have the chance to take the Longines Global Champions Tour crown. Luciana’s blistering victory in Vienna on her aptly named grey stallion Winningmood, has closed the gap on ranking leader and World No1 Scott Brash (GBR). Luciana is now only a wafer thin two points behind Scott and as she celebrated her lastest win she threw down the gauntlet and said: “I am going to be pushing you.”

Swedish champion Rolf-Göran Bengtsson is only another eight points behind Luciana and the three-way fight is set to produce a dramatic dream sporting finish to the season. It was a night of intense number crunching in the Austrian capital with the possibility that Scott could have taken the championship if he had jumped clear and Luciana and Rolf had scored zero points. But it was not to be and Scott’s four faults in the Grand Prix means the fate of the championship will only be decided on the final day of the final event of 2015.

Tour President Jan Tops said: “All three can still win, it will be very, very exciting. It can’t be closer. For every sport it is a dream to keep up the excitement until the last moment.”

Surrounded by the city’s world famous palaces, museums and monuments, the 14th Grand Prix of the season played out under floodlights next to the towering facade of the Rathaus City Hall. An exhilarating first round saw a tremendous test for the world’s best horse and rider combinations, as they took to the 35m x 90m sand arena in front of the iconic Rathaus (City Hall) for the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Vienna presented by LGT Private Banking.

And a night of dramatic world class sport more than lived up to the extraordinary setting. For the first round Frank Rothenberger set a big course with formidable challenges to bring the best to the top, delivering a few surprises along the way. Ranking leader Scott Brash (GBR) and Hello M’Lady jumped one of their best rounds of the season so far, but just flicked the last fence picking up an unlucky four faults. It was one of a series of upsets in the high drama competition but Scott still made it through to the top 18 and the second round with a chance for crucial ranking points for the home stretch of the championship. Luciana Diniz (POR) and Winningmood showcased their brilliant partnership to jump clear, looking solid all the way through the course to keep themselves in sight of the Championship crown.

Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (SWE) and Casall ASK picked up an uncharacteristic four faults in the first round in the middle of the tricky treble combination, forcing him to put his foot on the gas to ensure they went through to round two. Despite the challenges of the first round course, the three Championship contenders all went through to the second round keeping their three-way battle alive.

In total just six clears went clear to round two, and three who picked up one time fault; including Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) and Caretina de Joter who delivered an impressive clear, giving the fences plenty of room and scope.

The second round featured a challenging related distance down the middle, another formidable treble combination, and a maximum height 1,60m vertical which came off a tricky line around the corner.

Scott Brash (GBR) kept a laser-like focus on maintaining his ranking lead and rode a fast but careful clear round with Hello M’Lady to move him up to the top of the four faulters. He crossed the line in an impressive 59.07s, raising the bar for the rest of the field on four faults and throwing down the gauntlet to rival Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (SWE). With the Championship title in sight, Rolf and Casall ASK responded, riding the course in 59.80s, less than a second off Scott’s time. Such was the high calibre of competition that Marcus Ehning (GER), last year’s Grand Prix winner, followed suit and crossed the finish line just fractions of a second behind in 59.92s, and next place man Pius Schwizer (SUI) finished on an impressive 59.95s.

Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) carried over one time fault from the previous round and jumped clear with Caretina de Joter, moving her momentarily to the top of the leaderboard. First to go double clear was France’s Kevin Staut with his experienced 16 year old grey mare Silvana HDC. Simon Delestre (FRA), Audrey Coulter (USA) and Rene Tebbel (UKR) tried hard to make it through to the jump off but were unable to join the final round. Harrie Smolders (NED) completed yet another classy round with his bay stallion Don VHP Z to make it through, and Luciana Diniz (POR) made it three in the jump off with Winningmood.

As the rain came down the three riders prepared to enter the ring once more. The pressure was on for Kevin and Silvana HDC as they set the pace at 39.24s, however they were caught out when they had an unusual two fences down. Next in the ring came Harrie, who knew that a clear round would mean a minimum of second position. He rode a solid round, quick but careful in 43.19s to put the pressure on the final combination of Luciana and Winningmood.

The crowd cheered as the pair entered the arena and dropped to silence as the bell rang. With a showcase of teamwork and skill, Luciana and Winningmood took the win, galloping to the fences to shave off time, and crossed the line in 42.81s.

The Tour now looks to Doha and the final event of the 2015 season. Once again the stunning stage of Al Shaqab will witness a show jumping cliffhanger with only ten points separating the top three riders as they stake their claim on the championship title in November.

His Highness Prinz Philipp von und zu Liechtenstein: “I think it’s an amazing show here in Vienna. Year after year the show is great here and, today again, it was a pleasure to be here. Until the last moment, we didn’t know who would win which made it extremely exciting and it will be a very tight race until the last moment.”

Charles Villoz, Vice President of Longines: “In this sport, we have riders, we have horses, and today we had great sport. It was a fantastic show. I would like to congratulate the organisation committee here because they always choose amazing locations. And this one is really amazing, probably one of the best. I have to say “Congrats!”. I also need to thank Luciana as I never had such a shower with the champagne. Luciana is such a great rider that I didn’t want to leave the podium! That is the Luciana effect.”

Jan Tops, Founder and President of Longines Global Champions Tour: “Luciana wanted to win and she did it. Now she is only two points from Scott. I think it’s going to be like that like last year. Until the last rider of the second round, we probably won’t know who is going to win. For every sport, it’s a dream when you can keep the excitement until the last competition. This is something very special. Also of course we can congratulate Scott being 5th tonight and Rolf 6th, which is great performance. Congratulations to the other riders on the podium of course. I also would like to thank our main sponsor Longines. Without them it wouldn’t be possible to have such great moment of sport. They have been very consistent over the years and I would like to thank them very sincerely for our great partnership. Also, LGT Private Banking was sponsoring the Grand Prix and I want to thank them for that. Without them we wouldn’t have an event like this.”

Scott Brash, ranking leader: “I thought that Luciana did a wonderful job today, congratulations – she rode really, really well and she’s catching me up! It will all come down to Doha again but this is the best for the sport and it will be very exciting to the end. On a personal basis, I’m delighted with my horse, I thought she jumped fantastic today, I thought Frank has done an unbelievable job – I think he got the right result, the first round was very difficult, I’ll have to see why I had the last fence down, but apart from that she jumped a fantastic round and I was really pleased with her.”

Luciana Diniz, winner: “First of all I want to congratulate and say thank you to Edouard [de Rothschild] – he is the owner of Winningmood and without him this wouldn’t be possible so thank you. And then to my whole team, to everyone who made this show possible, the organisers, I have been to Vienna many many years now – I was 2nd in the Grand Prix here, and 3rd, and to win today was very special for me. I would like to thank all of you for all these years you have been supporting us and looking after my horses, I’m just so so happy. And I just want to say, Scott, last week I said, I have only one chance to beat you, it’s to win the next two Grand Prix out of three, so last week I was second, this week I won, and I’m really looking forward to going to Doha, it will be really great for everyone.

“Winningmood was in a winning spirit, he wanted to win.”

Harrie Smolders, second place: “Kevin tried to put a lot of pressure on us, my horse probably wasn’t the fastest of the three, so I wanted to go clear, that for sure, and I wanted to put as much pressure on Luciana, but she knew what she had to do and she did well, so all congrats to her.”

Kevin Staut, third place; “I had to try something but this evening I’m a happy loser because my mare Silvana [HDC] did a good job, it was a tough course, the first round, but sure Frank did a fantastic job tonight and I congratulate him. The jump-off, it was really exciting to watch, after my round, and even if I would like to win, it was a fantastic sport and great show and we have to congratulate all the organisation for this really nice show.”

presented by LGT Private Banking
Int. jumping competition over two rounds with jump-off, 1.60 m
Competition counting for the LONGINES Global Champions Tour Ranking 2015
Qualification for the Olympic Games 2016
Competition counting for the LONGINES ranking list
1. Winningmood – Diniz, Luciana (POR) 0/42.81 jump-off
2. Don VHP Z – Smolders, Harrie (NED) 0/43.19 jump-off
3. Silvana HDC – Staut, Kevin (FRA) 8/39.24 jump-off
4. Caretina de Joter – Tops-Alexander, Edwina (AUS) 1/66.78 round 2
5. Hello M’Lady – Brash, Scott (GBR) 4/59.07 round 2
6. Casall ASK – Bengtsson, Rolf-Göran (SWE) 4/59.80 round 2
7. Funky Fred – Ehning, Marcus (GER) 4/59.92 round 2
8. Giovanni van het Scheefkasteel – Schwizer, Pius (SUI) 4/59.95 round 2
9. van Gogh – Kutscher, Marco (GER) 4/60.01 round 2
10.Quartz de la Lande – Bost, Roger Yves (FRA) 4/60.76 round 2
11.Qlassic Bois Margot – Delestre, Simon (FRA) 4/61.42 round 2
12.Ornellaia – Whitaker, John (GBR) 4/64.03 round 2
13.Alex – Coulter, Audrey (USA) 4/65.07 round 2
14.Forlap – Tebbel, Rene (UKR) 4/66.71 round 2
15.Super Sox – O’Connor, Cian (IRL) 5/64.16 round 2
16.Gazelle – Farrington, Kent (USA) 8/59.80 round 2
17.Come Soon – Al Ajami, Faleh Suwead (QAT) 8/64.92 round 2
18.L.B. Eagle Eye – Liebherr, Christina (SUI) 13/66.29 round 2

Overall ranking Longines Global Champions Tour
1. Scott Brash (GBR) 279
2. Luciana Diniz (POR) 277
3. Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (SWE) 269
4. Simon Delestre (FRA) 255
5. Christian Ahlmann (GER) 234
6. Sheikh Ali Bin Khalid Al Thani (QAT) 195
7. John Whitaker (GBR) 180
8. Penelope Leprevost (FRA) 169
9. Pius Schwizer (SUI) 162
10.Lauren Hough (USA) 149

Source: Press release LGCT

image: Luciana DIniz and WInningmood. © Stefano Secchi / LGCT