It was a night of sporting jubilation and celebration as Harrie Smolders was officially crowned 2017 Champion and local hero Bassem Hassan Mohammed delivered an emotional home victory in the immense floodlit arena of AL SHAQAB in Qatar.
After 15 exceptional Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix across the world, consistently featuring the best riders and horses pushing sporting excellence to new levels, the final event of the season unfolded with a magical Hollywood ending.
Crowds gathered in Doha to watch the climax of the most challenging show jumping circuit in the world unfold on one of the most spectacular stages for equestrian sport.
Spectators of all ages held their breath as Bassem Hassan Mohammed, riding Gunder, demonstrated nerves of steel in the nine-strong jump off and swept home clear to win the final LGCT Grand Prix of the season – a full two seconds ahead of Janika Sprunger (SUI) on Bacardi VDL and Peder Fredricson (SWE) on H&M Christian K.
“Today we made it,” said Bassem. “It’s been really hard work, I’d like to thank my whole team and my horse, I’m so happy, so proud. It feels very special to make this crowd happy.”
On the night Dutchman Harrie Smolders and his superstar ride Don VHP clocked up four faults in the LGCT Grand Prix. But his supreme performance all season, against the best of the best in show jumping, had already ensured he was 2017 Champions of Champions.
Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, together with children from the AL SHAQAB Riding Academy, presented both the coveted LGCT Championship trophy to Harrie Smoldes and also the winning medal to Qatari rider Bassem Hassan Mohammed. His Excellency Sheikh Joaan Bin Hamad Al Thani was also in attendance along with diplomats from around the world. At one point Her Highness scooped up Bassem’s delighted daughter to the joy of the crowd.
Delighted Harrie, who also won the 2017 Global Champions League as part of team Hamburg Diamonds, said: “After such a long season, I’m very thankful to do the double here. It’s very special, it will not be easy to match this season again in my career. Every time at the right moment I delivered and I must enjoy it right now.”
Before the LGCT Grand Prix began there was intense speculation about which of the top riders would win the remaining podium place in the LGCT overall Championship.
Lorenzo De Luca arrived in Doha in second position, just ahead of Christian Ahlmann (GER), Alberto Zorzi (ITA), Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) and 2013-2014 title holder Scott Brash, the top six on the leader board separated by a mere 15 points.
Smolders couldn’t produce the fairytale finish, just missing out on a jump-off place with an unlucky four faults at the double. And when Fair Light van’t Heike put in an uncharacteristic stop at the Longines treble for Zorzi, his chance of a championship podium finish diminished. Only van der Vleuten remained for the leading championship contenders and he was first out of the blocks in the jump-off.
The shortened track featured two crucial turns and a tempting run down over the final Longines oxer under the packed stands, and the Dutchman riding the spirited stallion VDL Groep Verdi TN set a solid clear of 37.76s. But van der Vleuten exited shaking his head, knowing he’d left the door ajar for his pursuers.
European champion Peder Fredricson (SWE) and H&M Christian K upped the pace whilst remaining well anchored round the pivotal corners and they slipped into the lead in 37.41s.
Setting off in top gear, Janika Sprunger (SUI) and Bacardi VDL pushed all the way round, shaving just a fraction off the Swede’s time to give us another new leader in 37.34s.
The young Kevin Jochems (NED) with the scopey chestnut Alcazar Sitte followed the Swiss rider’s route but ground to a shuddering halt off the bend to the penultimate vertical.
Great applause filled the arena as home rider Bassam Hassan Mohammed and the big striding Gunder powered round. A big push was required to the penultimate fence and he swept home at full pelt and straight into the lead in by a good two-second margin, to the excitement of home supporters.
“I did my round as Jan and Willem said to me — I stuck to my plan and did exactly what we spoke about before I came in the ring and I waited for the best riders after me, but I was lucky that today was my day,” said Bassem. “The plan was just to jump clear and be as fast as I can. My horse is a big horse, maybe not the fastest, but I can turn and he was in good form today. To the double I did eight strides, quicker than the rest, and my big canter has helped me out today.”
Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) and California hit a big early vertical then Martin Fuchs (SUI) and Clooney also posted a four-fault round. Tension rippled round the stands as, with only two players left to perform, the Qatari rider was guaranteed a podium place.
Pieter Devos (BEL) revved through the start and Espoir relished the challenge, showing utmost agility through the double, but succumbing to a rail at the penultimate vertical.
It all hinged on last-to-go Kevin Staut (FRA) and Silver Deux De Virton HDC. The speedy Frenchman appeared set for victory, but when the Longines fence fell, the crowd erupted with joy.
“It’s an amazing feeling, it’s come at the right moment. I’m so happy and so proud of this result today,” said Bassem. “Jan made the plan and it has really worked so thank you to Jan and the Qatar Foundation, I’m so happy and so proud.”
Grand Prix of Doha Top 12
Season Final Rankings, Top Ten: