Mathieu Billot and Radja des Fontaines. PC: LGCT / Stefano Grasso
Riding in front of one of the world’s most iconic monuments, the Eiffel Tower, the world’s best riders took centre stage at the first 5* class of the weekend with the French riders performing well on their home turf. It was Mathieu Billot (FRA) and the 12 year old chestnut gelding Radja des Fontaines who took the top spot, as the eighth leg of the Championship series kicked off in style.
As always on the Tour circuit, the arena is full of tight turns and galloping fences, however Paris at least lends itself to more room than last weekend’s arena in Monaco, with the space under the Eiffel Tower almost double the size of Monte Carlo’s and a little bigger than last year’s to squeeze in an even bigger crowd of over 50,000 this weekend and allowing for more options within the arena.
The riders, in turn, struggled less with the jumps than with time faults as the riders cared more about jumping clear and treated this first class as a warm-up for their horses riding this weekend, giving them a chance to get to know the arena and a feel for the crowd, many of which will be in the Grand Prix tomorrow.
56 starters took to the track for their first taste of the picturesque sand arena. First to go Alexandra Thornton (GBR) had the tricky task of testing the lie of the land, however put in a stunning performance with her 11 year old bay mare Charielle. In the two phase competition, the second half counts against the clock, and Alexandra threw down the gauntlet to the rest of the field with a steady time of 29.76s.
Many riders went clear, including French heroes Simon Delestre (FRA) and Hermes Ryan, Philippe Rozier (FRA) with Rahotep de Toscane, Pénélope Leprevost (FRA) with top horse Vagabond de la Pomme and Julien Epaillard (FRA) with Instit de Jucaso. Other notable clears came from Marcus Ehning (GER) with the mighty Comme Il Faut, the pair looking on smooth form ahead of the weekend, and Jos Verlooy (BEL) with Domino also flying high with a strong clear.
Plenty of others were caught out by the time allowed, no doubt saving their horses for the weekend events yet to come. Jessica Springsteen (USA) with Cynar V., Alberto Zorzi (ITA) with Fair Light van T Heike, Lorenzo de Luca (ITA) with Armitages Boy and Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) with Mary Lou 194 all picked up time faults, ruling them out of the running.
David Will (GER) and Mic Mac du Tillard, who retires this weekend, showed no signs of slowing down, blazing around the second half of the competition to stop the clock in 23.83s – a full 5 seconds ahead of Thornton. Another speed demon, Bertram Allen (IRL) put in a valiant effort with his young horse, GK Casper, the pair bouncing around the arena with the elastic gelding on fine form. But the pair kept it steady, stopping the clock in 25.75s and moving in just behind Will. But it was Mathieu Billot (FRA) and Radja des Fontaines who set off at a blistering pace, clearly intent on bettering Will’s time, and galloped to the finish in 23.27s.
The first round of the Global Champions League will take place this evening, starting at 16:30 local time, where teams will fight for pole position ahead of tomorrow’s final. All the action will be streamed live via GCL TV, with behind the scenes content, detailed commentary and all the action LIVE as the world watches to see who will take pole position in Paris.