Knights Raise Stakes On Home Turf Ahead of Saturday’s Global Champions League London Showdown

Home city team London Knights dominated at the magnificent Royal Hospital Chelsea for today’s GCL London, with Ben Maher and Nicola Philippaerts taking pole position for Saturday’s showdown.

The Knights are currently in the lead of the overall rankings, however with every score counting and the pressure on to qualify for the GCL Super Cup at the GC Playoffs, each of the 19 teams will be strategising to secure maximum points as the Championship accelerates towards its climax in Doha.

With tactics at the forefront of everyone’s minds, four teams head into tomorrow on a clear score, with the Cannes Stars, Miami Celtics and Berlin Eagles joining the Knights in the best possible position. A further 9 teams sit within two poles of each other, highlighting the high calibre of sport and the drama that could unfold for Saturday’s showdown.

Ben Maher (GBR) on Winning Good. Photo by Stefano Grasso/GCL

Ben spoke about the Knights’ round, but kept the team’s tactics for tomorrow close to his chest: “We’re very happy with today. We were drawn first which isn’t the start we’d have liked, but we went in, did our plan and now the others have to chase! There were one or two options, which were quite risky, but we took the safe option with the team in mind, and it paid off. The horses feel good. It’s important to go towards the end, the objective is to try and jump two clear rounds again. We’ll probably have one change, but we’ll have a discussion later and make a decision for tomorrow.”

Nicola agreed: “{Chilli Willi] felt great today, then Ben made a great time so it was a very good start today. There is more pressure for sure, and here it is our home show, so hopefully we can do it again tomorrow.”

Overall ranking leaders London Knights drew the short straw in yesterday’s draw as the first team to go, all the pressure resting on the shoulders of Ben Maher and Nicola Philippaerts. First to go Nicola brought out top stallion Chilli Willi, the beautiful dark bay horse jumping magnificently to kick off the competition clear. Despite the tough task, Ben followed suit by riding Winning Good clear, keeping the team in the best possible position with a completely clean score heading into tomorrow’s showdown.

Team London Knights – Nicola Philippaerts (BEL) on H&M Chilli Willi. Photo by Stefano Grasso/GCL

Big rivals Valkenswaard United were also one of the teams drawn early to go and the duo of Alberto Zorzi and Maurice Tebbel knew they had to go double clear to match the Knights’ performance. But an early pole for Alberto with Contanga 3 meant the team would collect four faults, despite an impressive clear from U25 teammate Maurice with Don Diarado.

The St Tropez Pirates pairing of Edwina Tops-Alexander and Athina Onassis opted for a steadier pace to help ensure their team could keep all the poles up. Their tactics paid off, with Edwina piloting Cinsey and Athina riding MHS Going Global to jump clear, but with both picking up a time fault apiece to put the team on a score of 2.

Team St Tropez Pirates – Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) on Cinsey. Photo by Stefano Grasso/GCL

Jessica Springsteen and Shane Breen of Miami Celtics delivered once again, the second team to complete GCL London Round 1 on a zero score with top horses RMF Swinny du Parc and Ipswich van de Wolfsakker, before they were swiftly followed by the Cannes Stars who made it three on a clean score. Jane Richard Philips and Daniel Coyle pulled out all the stops for the Stars, completing their rounds faster than the Celtics and slipping in just behind the Knights who remained at the top of the leaderboard.

Montreal Diamonds were left disappointed after Eric Lamaze and Harrie Smolders both picked up four faults, despite competing on top horses Chacco Kid and Don VHP Z N.O.P. putting the team on a score of eight and way down the order.

Team Montreal Diamonds – Eric Lamaze (CAN) on Chacco Kid. Photo by Stefano Grasso/GCL

There was further drama after British hero John Whitaker of the Cascais Charms had a last minute refusal with Cassinis Chaplin, the grey stallion refusing the double at the final stride. Due to teammate Philip Houston’s previous 13 fault round, John opted to retire, however that meant the team would be eliminated from the competition and unable to collect a score tomorrow.

Team New York Empire – Scott Brash (GBR) on Hello Mr President. Photo by Stefano Grasso/GCL

But temperatures would rise after Scott Brash of New York Empire delivered a breathtaking round with the 9 year old Hello Mr President, the energetic and enthusiastic gelding leaping over the fences effortlessly, ears pricked in anticipation for the next challenge. The baton was passed to team-mate Cian O’Connor with Veneno, but it started to unravel midway through the course, the pair picking up 12 faults in total to drop the team down the order.

Final team to go Berlin Eagles fielded Christian Kukuk with Limoncello and Ludger Beerbaum and Ciara, the experienced duo once again delivering with a brilliant clear to keep the Eagles sky high in the results today.

Team Berlin Eagles – Ludger Beerbaum (GER) on Chiara 222. Photo by Stefano Grasso/GCL

But it would be the London Knights who took pole position today, keeping their place at the sharp end of the grid and in prime position for another podium on Saturday.