World Number 1 Kent Farrington thrilled thousands of spectators as 9 out of the top 10 riders in the world locked horns in Madrid for the fourth Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of the 2017 circuit on Saturday. Fans were kept on the edge of their seats as the top American rider and his Champion horse Gazelle triumphed against a heavy-weight field over a course that proved to be formidable and allowed only five clear rounds.
Kent admitted he “won by a whisker”, as he paid respect to the extraordinary caliber of riders and horses that turned the competition into a power play of precision, bravery and pin-point timing in the Spanish capital.
“It was an amazing competition here,” Kent said following his win. “A great city, a fantastic ring, big courses and tough competition. I really won by a whisker today, it was a coin toss who won. Both of these guys have won the Grand Prix before so I am glad they let me in the club! I’m thrilled. I think what I have today is years of work, great support and all my owners and really strong team of multiple horses. At the highest level it takes a big team of horses and I feel very fortunate.”
Lorenzo de Luca (ITA) continues his reign of the LGCT Ranking lead, with the Italian star once again in an electric jump-off and keeping his points tally high. With a score of 133 overall, Lorenzo will have one eye over his shoulder, as Maikel van der Vlueten (NED) has closed the gap to the top now sitting just 9 points behind on 124 overall after his third podium this season. Compatriot Harrie Smolders (NED) has leapfrogged up to third, with a collection of 86 points as the Championship race continues.
The high adrenaline Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Madrid set the crowd on a roller-coaster ride of emotion. As the Spanish heat intensified, thousands of fans lined the arena to watch the world’s elite show jumpers in action in their capital city. Families packed the vast grandstand to see Olympic, World and European champions battling for the coveted Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix win with perfect weather complimenting the stunning sporting action.
Course designer Santiago Varela Ullastres made full use of the galloping grass arena in his LGCT Grand Prix course, where gradient plays a big factor in the way the course is ridden. The triple combination towards the end of the course was daunting, with both parts a little on the short stride and the horses fixed on the in-gate and home. Following the first couple of riders, the time allowed was altered from 80 seconds to 78 seconds, as 25 took to the track with high hopes of the Grand Prix win.
The two former LGCT Grand Prix of Madrid winning combinations were the first to jump clear. Marcus Ehning (GER) with Pret a Tout, and Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) and VDL Groep Verdi TN N.O.P. put in foot perfect rounds, putting them in the mix for the jump-off. Both looked strong to re-take the Madrid title, with their horses visibly enjoying the arena.
Denis Lynch (IRL) looked set to join them with new mount RMF Echo, until they rolled the final pole at the water tray, the crowd groaning in disappointment for the Irish rider. Julien Epaillard (FRA) and Quatrin de la Roque LM also had an unlucky pole at the triple combination, joining the likes of Ludger Beerbaum (GER) and Chiara, Harrie Smolders (NED) with Don VHP Z, Sheikh Ali Bin Khalid Al Thani (QAT) with First Devision, Eric Lamaze (CAN) with Fine Lady, Pieter Devos (BEL) and Audrey Coulter (USA) who all picked up four faults. Other big names such as Christian Ahlmann (GER) and Taloubet Z and Kevin Staut (FRA) couldn’t keep the poles from rolling.
Qatar’s Bassem Hassan Mohammed (QAT) put in a phenomenal performance with his 11 year old bay gelding Gunder, and Lorenzo de Luca (ITA) proved his consistency with the expressive Armitages Boy also jumped clear, raising the temperature of the final yet to come.
It was a five rider jump-off as the sun began its slow descent and the anticipation around the arena grew. The jump-off required full turbo charge from the world class combinations, featuring many of the same tricky fences such as the second part of the triple combination, and full height verticals. A galloping finish with seven strides to the final flier had the crowd on the edge of their seats, and daring those brave enough to take a stride out to soar on six.
Marcus Ehning (GER) and Pret a Tout were the first to go, fully revved up to defend their 2016 LGCT Grand Prix of Madrid title. With a calm exterior and nerves of steel the top German rider kept up the gallop, with the large striding chestnut eating up the distances to set the bench mark at 45.68s. Former Madrid Grand Prix winners Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) and VDL Groep Verdi TN N.O.P. gave it their all – they had a scary touch at the vertical, but finished clear just fractions behind in 45.86s.
The show ground went silent once more as World Number 1 Kent Farrington (USA) and Gazelle entered the ring. The little horse jumped it’s heart out for the American, turning swiftly and leaping at the fences with a flat out gallop to the last. Shaving off fractions of a second, Kent guided the fiery horse to the final fence, and the crowd erupted in cheers as they pipped Marcus’ time by five tenths of a second to set the new time to beat at 45.18s.
Bassem Hassan Mohammed (QAT) and the huge striding Gunder rolled a pole, and then took out the penultimate vertical with a water tray dropping them down to fifth on 8 faults. Last to go was LGCT Ranking leader Lorenzo de Luca (ITA), who entered the arena with Armitages Boy looking like a force to be reckoned with. The pair were slower from the off, with Armitages Boy expressive with his hind legs, and bucking his way clear but slower in 50.59s overall.
So it was Kent and the brave-hearted Gazelle who leaped to the win, with Marcus Ehning taking second and Maikel van der Vleuten in third. The Tour now looks to Hamburg next weekend, where Round 5 of the 15 leg Championship promises further top class action and drama as the race for the title rockets up a gear.