The London Knights duo of U25 Emily Moffitt and Ben Maher defeated pole sitters New York Empire in a dramatic gladiatorial battle at the inaugural GCL Stockholm.
In a sell-out Saturday, spectators were packed to the rafters of Sweden’s historic Olympic Stadium creating an electric atmosphere as today’s drama unfolded.
Heartbreakingly for the New York Empire team, Daniel Bluman and Scott Brash couldn’t keep hold of their lead in today’s Swedish showdown, dropping off the podium as another shock result played out under enormous pressure.
The Knights put in a flawless performance, taking their second win of the season as they start their charge on the overall rankings. But second today went to Berlin Eagles dynamic duo of Malin Baryard-Johnsson and Ludger Beerbaum, with Mark McAuley and Eduardo Alvarez Aznar taking the third spot on the podium for Madrid in Motion.
A delighted Emily said: “It’s my first team on Winny [Winning Good] so I’m very excited about it. [After the time fault yesterday] I just put it out of my mind, and rode like it didn’t happen and it paid off."
Ben agreed, saying: “Concona has been with us for a few years, and it’s the first few shows at this level. There was a bit of pressure on her today, but I’m very happy with her and there’s a lot of potential for the future. Emily did an excellent job today - she certainly made my life easier, and we put pressure on the New York Empire team."
After their single time fault from the first round, Ben spoke of the importance of having a clear plan for the weekend: “The first day is very important, and I knew the time fault could determine our fate. But after seeing the course I thought a double clear [today] could keep us in the running. It’s a difficult ring to ride in, and a new venue but it’s now definitely one of my favourites so far."
Emily spoke of the incredible atmosphere in the arena: “I was saying before I got on my horse just how amazing the crowd is - it makes it more fun when you go clear!”
In the overall GCL rankings, the Knights have now jumped up to fourth overall, level with the St Tropez Pirates on 142 points. The Shanghai Swans have extended their overall lead, now 12 points ahead of Miami Celtics who sit on 148 points overall. Madrid in Motion now sit in third, just three points behind with 145 in their tally.
Spectators were packed into the stadium, and the arena echoed with rapturous applause and cheers with a knowledgable and appreciative crowd. As the sun started it’s slow descent across the arena, the atmosphere could be cut with a knife as the world’s best horses and riders fought with every ounce of their being for their teams.
Uliano Vezzani’s course featured 13 obstacles, with 16 jumping efforts and a time allowed of 83 seconds. Today’s challenge included a curving Volkswagen oxer, a delicate GC liverpool, a Longines double set on the sphered edge of the arena, and some tricky combinations which came up thick and fast. Vezzani also gave riders the options of inside or outside turns, knowing that the combined time could play a huge part in the results of the close-knit field today.
Here’s how the action unfolded…
First rider for the Giants, U25 Titouan Schumacher kept his mount Eliot Brimbelles Z for the second round of action in Stockholm. Keen to redeem after their faults yesterday, Titouan opted for a slower, careful approach to the course today. But the front rail of the flower lined oxer fell, as did the first combination and the first part of the brown horse head flanked double - adding another 12 faults to their overnight score of 17 faults. Mathilda Karlsson made the change to her scopey stallion Chopin VA, and the pair delivered the clear - a smile beaming from Mathilda’s face despite the disappointing result for the team.
Marco Kutscher and Chades of Blue were the first to face the track for the Prague Lions, and the German rider placed his horse with pin point precision ahead of every fence. They produced the clear round needed for the team, handing the baton to teammate Wilm Vermeir and DM Jacqmotte. Team manager Jessica Kurten had clearly instructed the riders to take the steady options, with Wilm taking the outside route at every option, giving his horse as much time as possible. The team tactics paid off and the Lions pulled off a double clear today, keeping the team on their overnight score of 16 overall. How far up the final result could they rise?
U25 rider Constant van Paesschen produced a spectacular clear in the first round with his 10 year old stallion Verdi Treize. Constant had to work hard over the first combination, and their unsettled rhythm cost them at the next Longines double which fell. Four faults put the team on a score of 20 overall. René Lopez made a horse change to Twig du Veillon, and opted for a slower, more conservative ride. The bay horse fought for her head, and the second part of the brown double fell, the team finishing this event on 24 faults.
Michael Whitaker of the Falcons kept his ride of Strides Hilanasterne for the second round of action in Stockholm, the 12 year old bay mare producing the goods on Friday. But they took a wide turn to the second fence, the Volkswagen oxer, and came in too long, crashing through the fence. The second part of the first combination come down, as did the first Longines vertical in the quick to follow double. The team would plummet to 24 overall. Teammate Jur Vrieling brought out his 11 year old gelding Davall, the more experienced horse taking over from his previous mount, the 9 year old KM Chalcedon. They lost momentum over the second part of the penultimate double, the fence falling and the team dropping to 28 overall.
The Panthers opted for a rider change for this round of action, with U25 rider and team owner Jennifer Gates stepping up for the team in place of Harrie Smolders. With her 16 year old grey gelding Pumped Up Kicks, the pair took the outside routes, with Jennifer giving the gelding plenty of time to the fences. Both parts of the Longines double fell, as did the second part of the penultimate double to put the team onto a score of 24. Nayel Nassar piloted Lucifer V, the dark horse flying over the fences and taking the track in his stride. In their naturally fast rhythm they delivered the clear, keeping the team on their score.
St Tropez Pirates
The Pirates also made a rider change after Friday’s first round, with Edwina Tops-Alexander being played up front for the team. With Ego van Orti, they also opted for the outside turns, but the first part of the double of verticals fell, as did the first part of the Longines double. The two final fences tumbled, the team agonisingly falling down to a score of 26 overall. U25 rider Laura Klaphake kept Bantou Balou, but another fence would drop them to the bottom of the standings with 30 faults.
U25 rider Evelina Tovek had an early fence with Dalila de la Pomme, and as the second part of the penultimate combination fell, so did the team’s hopes of a podium on home turf. Teammate Geir Gulliksen and VDL Groep Quatro took to the track, with grit and determination etched across their face. The flower lined oxer fell, the team dropping to a score of 20.
William Whitaker and Jessica Springsteen swapped their order, with William first to go for the Celtics today. With RMF Charly, the British rider carefully guided the 10 year old bay stallion around the arena, but the second part of the tricky double came down putting the team on a score of 12 faults. Jessica Springsteen and RMF Swinny du Parc were next to take on the challenge, but the same fence fell - the second part of the double combination. The penultimate fence fell too, the team dropping down to a score of 25 faults.
Cian O’Connor kept his 9 year old gelding PSG Final and despite a stumble after the first they were able to hold it together through the first part of the course. But the second part of the penultimate combination fell, the team now on a score of 12. Frank Schuttert made a horse change to Lyonel D, a 10 year old bay gelding, knowing only a clear could keep them in touch for a podium today. And they delivered, a flawless performance ensuring the team would stay on a final score of 12 this weekend.
Both of the Cannes Stars opted to change horses for Saturday’s showdown, with Karel Cox first to go with top horse Evert. There was drama as they approached the Longines double, the brave and scopey horse almost jumping it from a standstill but magically clearing it much to the crowd’s delight. But the penultimate fence fell and they tumbled to 12. Abdel Saïd changed to Jumpy van de Hermitage, and they too picked up 4 faults, putting the team on 16.
Madrid in Motion
Mark McAuley made the change to his 10 year old bay gelding Jasco vd Bisschop and they survived a lucky rub at the last to keep the team on clear today. With team manager (and teammate) Eric van der Vleuten watching on Eduardo Alvarez Aznar and Seringat took centre stage, knowing a double clear today would keep them at the sharp end of the grid. With that in mind, they opted for the slower, steadier route and it paid off, the duo finishing clear and keeping the team on their score of 8.
The Monaco Aces were another team to change horses for both riders today, with Jos Verlooy first to take up the mantle with top stallion Caracas. The U25 rider piloted the 14 year old grey stallion beautifully around the course, but the delicate vertical, the Fabege fence, fell and the team dropped to 12. Jerome Guery and Kel'star du Vingt Ponts had a naturally fast pace, and kept their momentum throughout - they finished clear and the team would stay on 12, crucially just half a second faster than the United team.
Malin Baryard-Johnsson entered the arena with H&M Indiana to a huge cheer, the sound reverberating off the rafters as they took in the track. Buoyed by her local supporters, the fiery combination flew around the course, the 11 year old bay mare jumping her heart out for Malin. The pair received a standing ovation as they delivered a clear, passing the baton to Olympic legend Ludger Beerbaum and Casello. Silence fell as they approached the course, but the second part of the double fell putting the team on 8 faults.
GCL Ranking leaders the Shanghai Swans kept their combination of Peder Fredricson and Pius Schwizer for the second round of action in Stockholm. Another huge cheer echoed around the arena as Peder entered first, this time competing with H&M All In. The tension could be cut with a knife as they took every challenge in their stride, before a huge eruption of cheers as they flew through the finish gate clear. Pius Schwizer knew the team had a real shot at the win today, with the Swiss rider piloting Cortney Cox again today. But the second part of the double came down, as did the Longines fence and the penultimate combination - the team dropped to a score of 16 faults.
With just one time fault carried through from their overnight score, the London Knights team made no changes to their horse and rider line up. First to go was U25 rider Emily Moffitt with Winning Good, the pair clearing the fences beautifully as they powered around the arena. Emily managed the hot horse perfectly, the duo finishing clear today and passing the pressure onto Ben Maher and Concona. Watched on by owner Jane Clark, the experienced British Olympian put his 9 year old chestnut mare in all the right places, and their slow and steady approach paid off, finishing on a clear to keep the team on their score of 1 fault.
New York Empire
The New York Empire line up made two horse changes today, with all Daniel Bluman up first with the 10 year old bay gelding Entano. Under huge pressure, the pair calmly made their way around the arena, but the second part of the Longines double came down, as did the following GCL oxer and the AJ vertical to follow. They would plummet down to 12 faults, agonisingly off the podium again. Scott Brash and Hello Mr President knew it would be a case of damage limitation, and they delivered once again, finishing clear and keeping the team on their score of 12.
The Championship now heads south to Cascais, Estoril in Portugal, for the 9th round of action next week.