It was a night of sporting jubilation and celebration on Saturday, November 11, 2017 as Harrie Smolders was officially crowned 2017 Longines Global Champions Tour Champion ,and local hero Bassem Hassan Mohammed delivered an emotional home victory in the immense floodlit arena of AL SHAQAB in Qatar, Doha.
The €400,000 Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Doha CSI5* served as the finale competition of the 2017 season.
Spectators of all ages held their breath as Mohammed, riding the 11-year-old BWP gelding Gunder (Thunder van de Zuuthoeve x Randel Z) owned by the Qatar Equestrian Federation, demonstrated nerves of steel in a nine-strong jump off and swept home clear to win the final LGCT Grand Prix of the season – a full two seconds ahead of Janika Sprunger of Switzerland on Bacardi VDL and European Champion Peder Fredricson of Sweden on H&M Christian K.
“Today we made it,” said Mohammed. “It’s been really hard work, I’d like to thank my whole team and my horse, I’m so happy, so proud. It feels very special to make this crowd happy.”
On the night that Dutchman Harrie Smolders and his superstar ride Don VHP clocked up four faults in the LGCT Grand Prix, his over supreme performance all season, against the best of the best in show jumping was already a foregone conclusion. By the series penultimate leg in Rome last month, Smolders had already earned the 2017 Champions of Champions title and prize money bonus.
Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, together with children from the AL SHAQAB Riding Academy, presented both the coveted LGCT Championship trophy to Smolders, and also the winning medal to Mohammed. His Excellency Sheikh Joaan Bin Hamad Al Thani was also in attendance along with diplomats from around the world. At one point Her Highness scooped up Mohammed’s delighted daughter to the joy of the crowd.
“After such a long season, I’m very thankful to do the double here,” said Smolders, who also won the 2017 Global Champions League as part of team Hamburg Diamonds. “It’s very special, it will not be easy to match this season again in my career. Every time at the right moment I delivered and I must enjoy it right now.”
Lorenzo De Luca of Italy arrived in Doha in second position, just ahead of Christian Ahlmann (GER), Alberto Zorzi (ITA), Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) and 2013-2014 title holder Scott Brash, the top six on the leader board separated by a mere 15 points.
Brash (Ursula XII), Ahlmann (Taloubet Z) and De Luca (Ensor De Litrange LXII) were all surprise casualties in the qualifying round as their four-fault rounds left them outside the vital top 24.
In the large sand arena a true 1.60m test awaited the 24-strong starters. Uliano Vezzani (ITA) had built width on the oxers that was truly daunting, but offered little to worry this top tier field and it proved a generously inviting track.
A wide triple bar at fence three to a lofty vertical followed by a two-stride double of water trays at fence five, required power and accuracy early on the track.
The return of the Longines treble midway round the track typically featured two verticals with a big wide oxer out — it required a big jumping effort and the poles here fell most frequently.
Then there was one final punch over the 1.55m high, 1.70m wide, Longines oxer under the packed grandstands and the 86s target time proved generous after an end-to-end challenge. A total of nine remained faultless and the stage was set for a fascinating final finale.
Smolders couldn’t produce the fairytale finish, just missing out on a jump-off place with an unlucky four faults at the double. And when Fair Light van’t Heike put in an uncharacteristic stop at the Longines treble for Zorzi, his chance of a championship podium finish diminished. Only van der Vleuten remained for the leading championship contenders and he was first out of the blocks in the jump-off.
The shortened track featured two crucial turns and a tempting run down over the final Longines oxer under the packed stands, and the Dutchman riding the spirited stallion VDL Groep Verdi TN set a solid clear of 37.76s. But van der Vleuten exited shaking his head, knowing he’d left the door ajar for his pursuers.
European champion Peder Fredricson (SWE) and H&M Christian K upped the pace whilst remaining well anchored round the pivotal corners and they slipped into the lead in 37.41s.
Setting off in top gear, Janika Sprunger (SUI) and Bacardi VDL pushed all the way round, shaving just a fraction off the Swede’s time to give us another new leader in 37.34s.
The young Kevin Jochems (NED) with the scopey chestnut Alcazar Sitte followed the Swiss rider’s route but ground to a shuddering halt off the bend to the penultimate vertical.
Great applause filled the arena as Mohammed and the big striding Gunder powered round. A big push was required to the penultimate fence and he swept home at full pelt and straight into the lead in by a good two-second margin, to the excitement of home supporters.
Edwina Tops Alexander (AUS) and California hit a big early vertical then Martin Fuchs (SUI) and Clooney also posted a four-fault round. Tension rippled round the stands as, with only two players left to perform, the Qatari rider was guaranteed a podium place.
Pieter Devos (BEL) revved through the start and Espoir relished the challenge, showing utmost agility through the double, but succumbing to a rail at the penultimate vertical.
It all hinged on last-to-go Kevin Staut (FRA) and Silver Deux De Virton HDC. The speedy Frenchman appeared set for victory, but when the Longines fence fell, the crowd erupted with joy.
See the complete results here.