The London Knights delivered a show stopping GCL London final under intense pressure today with Ben Maher and Nicola Philippaerts reigning supreme at the historic and picturesque Royal Hospital Chelsea.
Escorted by the Chelsea Pensioners in their traditional Scarlets, the red jackets of the Knights perfectly complimented the veterans’ uniforms as they proudly took the top step of the podium today – their fourth win of the season and the only team to win at their home event. Today’s result means the team have extended their overall ranking lead, where they now sit on 299 points, pulling away from closest rivals Valkenswaard United on 261. Miami Celtics have moved up to third, with 206 points in their bag as they look to qualify in the top four for the GCL Super Cup at the GC Prague Playoffs.
The 13th leg of the Championship saw top sport come down to the wire in Great Britain’s capital city. Just a stone’s throw from the River Thames and under bright blue skies, fans packed into the covered grandstands, waving British flags patriotically as well as London Knights emblems with local spectators rooting for their home team.
Uliano Vezzani produced a tricky and technical course, a real test for the teams as they battled to keep a clear combined score. The Longines double set across the arena and a treble set down the long side caused a few problems, as did the delicate Sapinda vertical. A huge London Underground triple bar looked imposing but caused no serious problems, but it was the final line that caught out many – a gappy flower filled oxer away from the in-gate before a water tray lined vertical to finish.
Doha Fursan Qatar were the first to pull a clear out of the hat today, however, Bassem Hassan Mohammed picked up just one time fault alongside Michael Whitaker to keep the team on a score of 14. Montreal Diamonds started their comeback campaign after Eric Lamaze and Chacco Kid delivered a spell-binding clear, before he was swiftly backed up by anchor Harrie Smolders with Don VHP Z N.O.P to keep the team on their score of eight.
Abdel Saïd of Rome Gladiators delivered an assured clear with Jumpy van de Hermitage, before Lorenzo de Luca took up the reins with Halifax van het Kluizebos to keep the team on a score of 5, with the rest of the field yet to come.
There was further drama for Valkenswaard United, the blue and orange team looking for a clear score today to keep them within touching distance of their big rivals the Knights. But a pole each for Maurice Tebbel with Chaccos’ Son and Alberto Zorzi with Contanga 3 meant the team would drop down the order and way out of contention.
Shanghai Swans quickly soared up the leaderboard, with Shane Sweetnam and Daniel Deusser pulling out all the stops to keep their team on a score of four faults.
Athina Onassis delivered a smooth round with MHS Going Global for the St Tropez Pirates, picking up just one time fault for the team to add to their score of 2. Laura Klaphake was brought off the bench for this round of the competition, riding Catch Me If You Can. An unlucky four faults for the pair meant they would put the team on a total of 7, dropping them off the podium and out of contention.
Berlin Eagles Ludger Beerbaum and Christian Kukuk couldn’t match their zero score, tumbling down the scoresheet and leaving just three teams in with a chance of a completely clean score.
Miami Celtics fielded Shane Breen up front with Ipswich van de Wolfsakker. Shane had a wiggle to the planks which meant he had to push on the last few strides but then jumped very smoothly. Unfortunately he rolled the front rail of the third part of the combination putting the pressure on teammate Denis Lynch to go clear with RMF Echo. The chestnut stallion was giving the fences miles of room and jumped a superb clear but was unfortunately was not fast enough to get ahead of the other team on four faults.
Daniel Coyle took up the mantle for the Cannes Stars, but fell short at the combination, coming down on the back rail of the second element. He then sped up, wary about the time which cost him the last fence, finishing on a total of eight faults. Teammate Jane Richard Philips also had the last element of the combination down but this time it was the front rail that fell, putting the Stars even further down the results. An unexpected refusal sealed the deal, and meant only the Knights had a chance of keeping a zero score.
Spectators cheered their home city team the London Knights, as they entered the arena, proudly sporting their scarlet jackets but focused on keeping the team on a score of zero. Watched on by U25 rider Emily Moffitt, first to go Nicola Philippaerts piloted top stallion Chilli Willi around the arena, the impressive horse eating up the ground with his huge stride and clearing the fences effortless to keep his team in the best possible position.
All eyes turned to home hero Ben Maher, the rider swapping yesterday’s mount Winning Good with the 9 year old chestnut Explosion W. Fans held their breath as the British rider jumped a foot perfect clear, delivering another show stopping round to help the Knights collect their 4th victory of the season.