Sizzling Smolders snatches victory as Bengtsson takes pole position in championship

Flying Dutchman Harrie Smolders and Don VHP seized victory in a dramatic jump off as Rolf-Goran Bengtsson took over the lead of the championship race in the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Rome. The rescheduled €391,900 class Grand Prix saw Smolders snatch the win from his compatriot Maikel van der Vleuten and then narrowly hold onto his lead after a challenge from the final rider to enter the ring - the speedy Frenchman Simon Delestre, who took the silver medal. Power combinations, featuring the Top 30 ranked riders in the world, delivered a stunning display of show jumping under the blazing Italian sunshine.

The passionate and knowledgeable Italian crowd were on the edge of their seats as home rider Alberto Zorzi (ITA) narrowly lost out on a podium place after joining the ranks of the combinations who delivered triple clear rounds in the 1.60m class. There was disappointment for Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS), who started the event as ranking leader, but lost out on points to close rival Rolf-Goran Bengtsson who is now five points ahead of her on the leaderboard.


Uliano Vezzani set a straightforward but delicate course, which made it easy to pick up four faults at any point, adding on the extra pressure of finishing the rest of the round clear and fast. The first round story was a case of the young stars of show jumping setting the pace initially, as Jessica Mendoza (GBR) took pole position following round one with her enthusiastic and talented horse Spirit T. With yesterday’s clears carried through, Jos Verlooy (BEL) and his grey stallion Caracas also joined those through, as did home rider Gianni Govoni (ITA) with Antonio. The resumed first round course proved a tough test for the world’s best with many rolling a pole in all areas of the course.

Young talent shone through, as Philip Houston (GER) with Loewenherz were the second fastest of the pack, and Alberto Zorzi (ITA) with Fair Light van't Heike also joined those on clear to the delight of the crowd. Luciana Diniz (POR) and Lennox accelerated too quickly to fence 9 and consequently dropped at rail at the wooden oxer and dropped and at the final fence and Marco Kutscher (GER) also had a pole down at the troublesome final fence. John Whitaker (GBR) entered the ring on Ornellaia to cheers from the crowd but it was not to be his day as the pair clocked up 12 faults and exited the Grand Prix.

The Championship battle looked set to take an interesting turn after Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) had an unlucky back rail in the middle of the Longines triple combination with Caretina de Joter, but just scraped through on four faults and was first to go into round two. Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (SWE) and the mighty Casall ASK jumped a beautiful clear to set themselves up well for round two, and were joined by Simon Delestre (FRA) with Chesall, Harrie Smolders (NED) and Don VHP Z, Sheikh Ali Bin Khalid Al Thani (QAT) with Carolina 31, Ludger Beerbaum (GER) with Chiara, Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) with VDL Groep Arera C clear, and Bertram Allen (IRL) with Hector van d’Abdijhoeve, Pilar Lucrecia Cordon (ESP) with Nuage Bleu, Denis Lynch (IRL) with All Star 5, Abdullah Al Sharbatly (KSA) with Talan all through on four faults. Italian fans were treated to four home riders in round two, with Emanuele Gaudiano (ITA) and Caspar 232 and Piergiorgio Bucci (ITA) with Casallo Z joining those through on clear.

The second round course featured fences up to the full 1.60m height, but a flowing pace allowed riders to pick up speed throughout the turns. An imposing Roman Coin oxer set against the long-side of the watching crowd with seven strides to the final vertical gave the crowd a thrilling view as they watched to see which heroes would make it through to the jump-off. Faults came from all over the course, until Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) put in a stunning round with VDL Groep Arera C. Ludger Beerbaum (GER) and Sheikh Ali Bin Khalid Al Thani (QAT) rolled unlucky poles, eliminating them from a jump-off, but home heroes Alberto Zorzi (ITA) and Piergiorgio Bucci (ITA) both earned their place in the final round, much to the delight of the passionate crowd.

The jump-off was set with the crowd on the edge of the seats for the seven rider jump off. First to go Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) set a cracking pace with VDL Groep Arera C, setting the time to beat at 34.07s. Jos Verlooy (BEL) and Alberto Zorzi (ITA) both also jumped triple clear, but were unable to knock the Dutch rider off the top position. Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (SWE) and Casall entered the ring to the cheer of the crowd, with the Swedish rider knowing a good result would shoot him up to the overall ranking lead. The pair were flawless, however a touch off the best time, dropping them down to fifth overall. Home hero Piergiorgio Bucci (ITA) was once again riding a son of Casall ASK, Casello Z, and looked set to be on for a podium until they agonisingly clipped the final fence.

Compatriot of Maikel, Harrie Smolders (NED) entered the ring, and with the huge striding liver chestnut Don VHP Z, the pair galloped the course taking out valuable seconds and saving time between the galloping distances. The pair stopped the clock at 33.11s to the cheer of the crowd, with one rider left to go. Silence fell as World Number 3 Simon Delestre (FRA) and his fiery chestnut gelding Chesall Zimequest entered the ring, with all eyes on the formidable combination. With lightning fast speed, Simon guided the smaller chestnut through the course, but the pair couldn’t match the Dutch riders pace and had to settle with silver, finishing second in 34.00s.

The Tour now looks to Vienna next week, where Rolf will look to keep hold of his overall Ranking lead as the 2016 plays out its final exhilarating stages.

source: globalchampionstour

Photo: LGCT / Stefano Grasso