Ph. Stefano Grasso/LGCT
In a truly heart-stopping Grand Prix in Vienna on Saturday, September 17th, top German rider Marcus Ehning of Germany took his second Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix win of the season.
It was an extraordinary night of tension in Austria for the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Vienna presented by LGT Private Banking, the penultimate leg of the series. Sweden’s Rolf-Göran Bengtsson and Casall ASK narrowly missed winning the overall title in this, the penultimate leg of the 2016 Longines Global Champions Tour.
After jumping two clear rounds, Bengtsson needed to finish first or second to win the Champion of Champions title ahead of his closest rival Edwina Tops-Alexander. However, the evening’s result leaves Tops-Alexander’s hopes alive for a historic triple Champion of Champions Title, while Bengtsson’s dream of winning the LGCT crown is still within reach as the Tour looks to Doha this November, for the final chapter in this season’s Championship story. Just five points separate the two riders in overall standings.
The €300,000 Grand Prix of Vienna was won in emphatic style by Ehning with a lightning quick round on the 11-year-old Westfalian stallion Comme Il Faut (Cornet Obolensky X Ramiro). The power combination crossed the finish line in 38.67s, ahead of Janne-Friederike Meyer of Germany on the 10-year-old BWP gelding Goja (Wandor van de Mispelaere X Palestro vd Begijnakker) in 39.68s. Following his win, Ehning said: “It was my day today. My horse was amazing, he was flying. He did a brilliant job.”
In a night of high drama, Tops-Alexander suffered agonising time penalties in the first and second rounds, and with Bengtsson into the jump off the Championship race was on a knife edge. He was on course to win the class, but Casall put in a dramatic stop at one of the big oxers on Frank Rothenberger’s course.
It was a full-blown Grand Prix course with the first fence at 1.55m and an oxer spread at 1.60m. The first round was all about power and speed with a gigantic test for the very top riders in the world under floodlights in the sand arena. There was palpable tension in the arena as Ranking Leader Bengtsson and Casall ASK entered the ring and, after a few heart stopping moments, jumped clear and in time. Tops-Alexander was under intense pressure coming into her first round on Caretina de Joter and despite jumping clear clocked up a painful time penalty. Tops-Alexander had a nail-biting time waiting for the final riders to complete their first rounds before she even knew if she was in the top 18 qualified for Round 2.
The course delivered plenty of challenges from the demanding time allowed to the wide oxer in the middle of the Longines triple combination. There were thrills and spills with faults for Marco Kutscher, Daniel Deusser, Ludger Beerbaum, John Whitaker, Harrie Smolders, Emanuele Gaudiano and Sheikh Ali Al Thani. Pius Schwizer, Jessica Mendoza and Faleh Al Ajami all retired. Round after round had a potential influence on the championship with fans on the edge of their seats, Tops-Alexander was confirmed for the second round and a shot at maximum points.
The high quality field resulted in a star-studded line up of 18 riders qualified for the second round. Scott Brash with Hello Forever, Bertram Allen with Hector van d’Abdijhoeve, Kevin Staut with Estoy Aqui de Muze HDC, Luciana Diniz with Winningmood, Simon Delestre, Maikel van der Vleuten with VDL Groep Arera C, and Great Britain’s Laura Renwick and Bintang II were among the world class horses and riders joining Bengtsson.
Meyer and the powerful Goja, Daniel Bluman on Apardi and Kamal Bahamdan on Delphi also jumped clear along with Jane Richard Phillips, Jack Towell, Leopold van Asten and Gonzalo Añon Suarez.
The second round proved another challenging test for the 18 riders through. Tops-Alexander was first to go and put in a careful clear, however picked up another time fault leaving her with a tally of two. As the round unfolded, faults were picked up throughout the course; with Allen and Brash just two of the names to drop out with poles down. Bengtsson once more raised the pressure by jumping clear, and a total of 11 riders went through to the jump off as the packed grandstands watched on with mounting tension.
First to go Delestre powered the galloping course with his 11-year-old Holsteiner gelding Chesall Zimequest (Casall X Concerto 4), with the feisty son of Casall making incredible turn backs and flying to the final two fences. They stopped the clock at 40.18s, putting the pressure on the riders to follow. Others tried and failed to match their pace, with Bluman and Staut both putting in brilliant times but rolling the final pole. Meyer pushed the huge striding Goja to the fences, with the large horse agile in the tight turns and leaping the fences, just beating Delestres’s time. But it was the penultimate rider to go, Ehning and the speedy Comme il faut who powered to the win, with the pair bravely flying at the fences and turning on a sixpence to propel them into the lead, the German’s second of the season and his second win in Vienna.
All eyes now turn to Doha in November for the final round of action in the 2016 season, where the overall Champion of Champions will be decided in a nail-biting finale.
“It’s very exciting, we will see who [takes the title] at the very end. At this moment nothing has changed, Rolf is still ahead by five points and the battle is between him and Edwina.” Jan Tops said. “Every sport dreams that you can keep the tension until the last event, and we have that individually, and in the [Global Champions] League as well, and the winner will be decided at the last event. It was a great jump-off with a great result. Simon was excellent but had the bad luck to go first today – his horse was very consistent. Marcus had everything to lose at the end but he went for it and it was a great, great win – his second in Vienna!”
Ehning, LGCT Grand Prix of Vienna Gold Medallist said, “My horse is a real fighter, he has a super brain and is always giving his best – in a jump off he can race and I’m very happy that it worked out. I saw Simon and knew what I had to do. I rode one and two and it wasn’t what I wanted, so I thought ‘I really have to go’, and thought I could turn a bit tighter at the final three jumps – in the end it was our day.”
“I’m really happy with Goja. I’d like to say thank you to Jan Tops, because of him and the Shanghai Swans I have the great opportunity to ride in this show,” said Meyer “I’m really proud of my horse – I saw Simon and knew I had to really ride to be faster and I tried all my best, I was so proud we were fast enough, but still I knew that Marcus could go faster – he’s unbeatable fast, so it feels like a win for me!”
“Of course to be first in a jump-off like that with so many quick and top riders is hard, so I tried to go as fast as I could but I was a little too slow today. Chesall was second in Rome, and for the last three shows has been something incredible.” added Delestre
Bengtsson, LGCT Ranking Leader concluded “Nothing changed in the [overall ranking] position today. I messed it up myself – I pushed for the stride, then saw it was not going to go, so tried with another stride but it was too late. Casall jumped three times clear again, it was my fault today. Of course it’s going to be super exciting to the final in Doha.”
See full results here.