After a 12-month hiatus, the Global Champions Tour makes a triumphant – and welcome – return
Showdowns between Scott Brash and Niels Bruynseels coloured the first Global Champions date for 12 months: while the Scotsman dominated the qualifier with the formidable Hello Vincent, it was the Belgian who took the grand prix with his established five-star campaigner Delux Van T & L.
Scott had already hit the ground running at his first five-star of 2021, picking up second in a speed class with Vincent at the preceding week’s Doha CSI5*.
The pair upped their form to head the grand prix prelude, Friday night’s 1.55m feature class, by just under one second.
Vincent, formerly known as Coquin De Coquerie Z, was produced in Britain first by Tim Wilks and then by Jodie Hall-McAteer. Scott took over the ride on the 12-year-old in summer 2019, winning Olympia’s grand prix four months later. The stallion has since established himself as a formidable opponent against the clock at the top level.
“I knew it was fast but Vincent is so rideable it makes my life a lot easier. I just tried to be as quick and as tight as I could everywhere,” Scott said.
Scott had seized the win in the qualifier from pathfinders Niels and the consistent mare Frenchy VDS. For the Belgian, history looked in danger of repeating itself in the eight-strong grand prix jump-off, in which Niels once again found himself in the lead with Scott in final draw.
The class hung on a critical turnback to the penultimate vertical, which was followed by an open gallop to the final oxer. Niels took a bold risk on the final line, but a loss of rhythm on the turnback left the door open.
But although Scott was tighter everywhere, clipping more than 2.5sec from Niels’ time, and setting the fastest time of the jump-off by more than a second, the final two fences fell.
Scott dropped to sixth, just ahead of Germany’s Marcus Ehning with his striking stallion Stargold, who had delivered the second fastest round, also with two to add.
“I’ve had an extremely good two weeks in Doha,” said Niels, who was sitting in the grand prix press conference for the second consecutive week, but this time two seats higher up.
“With Scott and Marcus still to go, you are never quite in the seat yet, and I was a bit lucky also, but I think you need a bit of luck to win a grand prix,” he said. “He jumped amazing rounds but I knew I had a bad turn to the second last and that’s why I sped up a bit to the last jump.”
Power to burn
It was Italy’s Lorenzo De Luca and the big-striding 10-year-old mare Nuance Bleue VDM Z, who has recently stepped up to this level, who was runner-up.
While the mare showed some greeness, napping a little at the start, she has power to burn and remained focused despite some unplanned pyrotechnics going off in the centre of the ring during her round.
The 33-year-old rider had executed a great turnback to the final line but acknowledged the mare’s inexperience when he took a check to the last.
“Last week [at the Doha CSI5*] was her first five-star grand prix and she has actually been very consistent,” said Lorenzo, whose Stephex stablemate, Germany’s Daniel Deusser, was the GCT grand prix winner here last year.
“I could in fact have gone one stride less to the last, which was maybe my mistake, but she gave me everything.”
Canadian Eric Lamaze and the 12-year-old stallion Dieu Merci Van T & L were just 0.15sec behind Lorenzo, in third.
Despite the extensive accolades on his CV, the former individual Olympic champion is yet to win a grand prix on the Global Tour.
“It’s my mission this year and I am going to take it very seriously. I’ve been second many times and third many times but someone always comes up to bite me at the end,” he said. “It’s my goal before I take off my boots!”
Eric echoed the thoughts of many riders when he praised the Doha organising committee for its delivery of the event in the face of both Covid and the EHV outbreak.
“I want to thank the organising committee for working way beyond what we actually know,” he added. “It can’t be easy and we all felt very safe here in Doha, and felt our equine partners were safe as well.”
“We had to be fast”
Marcus Ehning and Stargold were also a force to be reckoned with in the first Global Champions League contest of the year, claiming the opening match alongside his Valkenswaard United teammate Peder Fredricson of Sweden, the current world number four, and Hansson WL.
Both combinations jumped clears, with Marcus also setting the fastest time to trump the Shanghai Swans (Max Kühner and Christian Ahlmann), who had also delivered faultless rounds.
“There was pressure [going into the ring] that it really mattered – it’s something we’ve missed for a long time and I felt that today,” Peder said. “When we went in we knew we had to be clear and we knew we had to be fast, just like it should be in top competition.”
The Germans have been on strong international form so far this season, with Christian Ahlmann heading the previous week’s grand prix. His countrymen picked up where he left off at the GCT.
Max Kühner, who is based in Germany but switched nationality to Austrian in 2014, collected the opening win in Thursday’s (4 March) speed class with the chestnut mare Vancouver Dreams, while Marcus Ehning and Funky Fred took the runner-up spot and compatriot Maurice Tebbel finished third aboard Chacco’s Son.
Maurice almost added another accolade to the tally with Chacco’s Son in Friday’s 1.50m jump off class, leading the eight-strong second phase from the off until he was trumped by “flying Frenchman” Julien Epaillard and his prolific winner Safari D’Auge in final draw.
Onwards and upwards
The next Global Champions show will take place in Madrid, on 21-23 May. While there is usually a gap between the first two dates of the tour, it has been extended this year by the Shanghai and Mexico City fixtures being moved to the end of the season, while there will be no show in Miami in 2021.
The scheduling should hopefully allow the tour to continue as planned.
“We have another two months and hopefully things with Covid will calm down more,” said GCT founder Jan Tops. “Spain is known for normally continuing with very good care and [the venue] is a big place where people can be spread out. It’s a professional group who organise it; I am sure things will not get worse and that it will take place.”
“I am very happy that we have already seen at the beginning of the year, with so much less training and so much less riding at this level, that the horses are in such great form,” he added.
Same roots, same field
Both Niels Bruynseel’s grand prix winner Delux Van T & L and Eric Lamaze’s third-placed Dieu Merci Van T & L (pictured, above) were bred by Tilleman & Lenaerts Sport Horses, who are based in Belgium and the Netherlands.
The two 12-year-olds grew up together in the same field at the stud and both are by the Heartbreaker stallion Toulon, who was also bred by the stud’s Luc Tilleman.
“Delux was gelded but Dieu Merci stayed a stallion. Delux was then sold as a five-year-old to a Swiss owner [Joël Kurmann] who still owns him,” Delphine Tilleman told H&H. “They grew up in our former stable in Belgium in Vrasene.
“Dieu Merci was sold two years ago after my husband Frédéric Vernaet, who is also our rider, won a three-star grand prix with him in Beervelde.”
Dieu Merci is out of the Toulon mare Moräna, while Delux is out of the Landetto mare Ulricke Van’t Paradijs.
Also published in H&H 11 March 2021
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