European Bronze Medalist Simon Delestre claims early win as Rome revs up ahead of Grand Prix

Delestre and Chesall ph. Stefano Grasso/LGCT
Delestre and Chesall ph. Stefano Grasso/LGCT

Simon Delestre (FRA) hit the accelerator to take the CSI5* feature class win on day one of the debut Longines Global Champions Tour of Rome in an exhilarating jump off at the iconic new venue on the championship circuit. The Flying Frenchman finished almost a second ahead of home rider Emanuele Gaudiano (ITA), who was fired up by the cheers of the local crowd. Great Britain’s John Whitaker took third place on his 10-year-old mare Ornellaia and looked on strong form for the competitions ahead.

As the sun set against a stunning Italian skyline, 53 starters from 24 different countries took centre stage in front of enthusiastic fans who enjoyed free access to the unique event in the heart of Rome and spectators will be given free tickets to see the top-level sport throughout the weekend as Longines Global Champions Tour continues to bring show jumping to dynamic capital cities and to a wider audience. Dignitaries from the City and senior members of the Italian National Olympic Committee (CONI), including President, Giovanni Malagò, were among guests including rock legend Bruce Springsteen.

The dramatic Stadio de Marmi arena, surrounded by 59 classical marble statues, was a unique stage for the best riders and horses in the sport as leg 12 of 15 events in the championship race got underway.

With the time allowed relatively tight, Uliano Vezzani’s course encouraged a faster pace around the large purpose built sand arena posing a few challenges for many of the world’s best combinations. Several decided to take a more cautious route to avoid faults but ended up picking up time penalties. The penultimate line, in particular, caused several of the top riders to falter, as the short four strides to a double of verticals proved tricky in this forward paced course.

A total of 11 riders went clear and through to the second round setting the scene for a real test of speed in the jump off.

Christian Ahlmann (GER) was the first to set the pace, flying round and taking a stride out to the last to come home in an impressive 38.90s. Home favourite Emanuele Gaudiano (ITA) was next in, saw what he had to do and raised the bar higher still with an impressive round. He galloped to each fence with his incredible 10 year old dark bay gelding Admara 2, and with a flyer of a stride to the last he crossed the line in 38.69s.

As the battle intensified Simon Delestre (FRA) was fractions quicker throughout the course with the long striding Chesall, his 10 year old chestnut gelding, and with a powerful gallop to the last he went into the lead in 37.55s. Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) and Lintea Tequila were looking a repeat of their Valkenswaard speed class win, however were unable to beat the time set by the Frenchman, finishing double clear in 6th. Denis Lynch (IRL) put in a valiant effort with his big striding All Star 5, but was only able to manage 4th place overall with 39.51s.

As the penultimate rider, Jessica Springsteen (USA) rode a fast and brave round on Davendy S, taking out strides and riding courageous lines to each fence. But the pair clipped the final fence to the disappointment of her fans in the crowd. Jessica finished on 4 faults despite crossing the line in 36.74s – which would have been an unbeatable time.

The winner of the opening CSI5* class John Whitaker (GBR) was the last to go and put in another strong round with Ornellaia, whose stride and tempo is slightly slower than Simon’s Chesall. Showing his experience and skill once more, John rode to the line clear in 38.72s, just fractions of a second behind Emanuele Gaudiano (ITA) to take third place.

Tomorrow will see the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Rome take place at 12:30 local time, and it will be broadcast live via RAI Sports 1, Class Horse TV, Equidia Life, GCT TV and will be live from the second round on beIN Sports. The Grand Prix will also be broadcast as live on Eurosport at 09:05 on Sunday 13th September. Watch the Grand Prix live here