Germany’s Marco Kutscher seized a phenomenal victory on Van Gogh in Saturday’s Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Valkenswaard as British rider Scott Brash held on to his overall ranking lead with only three legs left in the 2015 title race.
Despite heavy rain, the footing in the new Tops International Arena remained exceptional and a nail biting jump off in the 12th Grand Prix of the series saw six riders battle it out for a share of the €300,000 prize purse.
It was an afternoon of high drama on Saturday as Uliano Vezzani’s sweeping course over the vast grass arena tested World and Olympic champions to the full and filtered the field of 50 starters down to a climactic jump-off of the best six. Throughout the course there were challenges set to test the very best in the sport and, as the rain intensified, many picked up faults in all areas of the first round. The 1.50m high and 1.50m wide oxer caused a few issues as it was placed early in the course.
Just 12 riders went clear in the first round, with the USA’s Reed Kessler impressing early on with her chestnut mare Cylana and Gregory Wathelet (BEL), Kamal Abdullah Bahamdan (KSA), Ludger Beerbaum (GER) and Audrey Coulter (USA) also through. Ranking leader Luciana Diniz (POR) made it into the second round, but picked up an unlucky four faults with her grey stallion Winningmood.
The second round saw yet more drama and excitement with another vast course than featured oxers up to 1.60m and long related distances. Dutch rider Henk van de Pol and Willink were the first to ride double clear – a popular result as the crowd cheered them through to the last fence. His compatriot Harrie Smolders looked to be in contention for the jump off with a strong performance on Regina Z, until a scary moment saw him almost unseated before righting himself much to the relief of the crowd.
Six strong contenders took to the ring for the final round of the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Valkenswaard. There was absolute silence as once more Henk van de Pol was the first to set the pace, proving to be a solid Grand Prix combination in 36.80 seconds.
Bassem Hassan Mohammed of Qatar raised the bar further still with an impressive 35.82 on Eurocommerce California and was watched by a delighted Sheikha Mayassa bint Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, sister of the Emir of Qatar, from the Royal Box. Simon Delestre (FRA) and Qlassic Bois Margot then put up the third clear round of the day, crossing the finish line in 34.97s. World Number 1 Scott Brash then took centre stage with Hello Sanctos, but had an unlucky fence down to finish on four faults. It was down to the wire as last to go Marco Kutscher and Van Gogh delivered a super-slick clear stopping the clock at 34.86s – a split second flourish that left the crowd gasping. It was Kutscher’s first big win on the 13-year-old bay stallion and he said: “I still can’t believe it!”
Ranking leader Scott Brash was disappointed at his four faults in the jump off on Hello Sanctos. “I took a chance and that is the way it goes. He is still a superstar. We are in a good position.”
Top sport and entertainment attracted families and guests from across the world. Thousands of fans packed the impressive new grandstands to cheer on their show jumping heroes and heroines. Members of Royal Families, global business leaders including Boeing Chairman Jim McNerney, Netscape Founder and philanthropist Jim Clark and rock legend Bruce Springsteen were among the VIP guests.
It was a stunning inaugural event for the new Tops International Arena, which drew praise from spectators and guests alike. The high adrenaline championship battle now moves to Rome where the giants of show jumping will lock horns in another spectacular new venue on the circuit.
Valkenswaard Grand Prix Results
1. Marco Kutscher (GER) /van Gogh
2. Simon Delestre (FRA) /Qlassic Bois Margot
3. Bassem Hassan Mohammed (QAT) /Eurocommerce California
4. Henk van de Pol (NED) /Willink
5. Gregory Wathelet (BEL) /Algorhythem
6. Scott Brash (GRB) / Hello Sanctos