Dreams come true for Rolf-Goran Bengtsson in Doha

It’s what dreams are made of. An absolute class round from Sweden’s Rolf-Goran Bengtsson landed the Longines Global Champions Tour grand prix and the prestigious 2016 Champion of Champions title with the phenomenal 17-year-old stallion Casall ASK.

Going into the final at Doha as head of the leader-board following powerful performances in the 15-venue GCT season, Rolf was pitted against Edwina Tops-Alexander for the Champions title, but eight faults in round one on Lintea Tequila saw the tough Australian make a shock exit, her title hopes dashed. And Rolf knew he had secured the Champion of Champions 2016 title after jumping a round one clear.

As per the norm, 18 riders made their way to the second round, the nine initial clears joined by one on one time fault and the fastest four-faulters. Sadly, these did not include Britain’s Scott Brash, who finished in 20th spot on four with Hello M’Lady. John Whitaker’s hopes ended when Ornellaia put in an unexpected stop at the final fence, nearly unseating him, and although he sat tight, it put them out of the running.

Seven provided double clears to make for an exciting, nail-biting jump-off with Germany dominating with four riders of the seven. Daniel Deusser held the lead on First Class van Eeckelghem followed closely by Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum on the scopey Fibonacci and Laura Kraut’s Zeremonie. You could hear a pin drop as silence descended as Rolf and Casall entered the arena as the final combination of the class, and tension mounted as they cleared each fence.

Nonetheless, Rolf dismissed any pressure and guided the big-jumping, handsome Holsteiner stallion Casall over the substantial track, executing an incredible 180 degree turn-back to the penultimate vertical to win by 0.40 sec, taking the grand prix and 2016 series title. And fittingly, spectators jumped to their feet to give this pair an incredible and well-deserved standing ovation. It was a fairytale ending for the popular Swede.

Rolf was elated: "It was an evening you can dream of, but for it to come true you never think it is possible. Casall ASK is just amazing, still jumping at 17 years old. He likes it and makes everything possible, what he’s done for me is amazing. I am really, really happy. If he jumps like this it is hard to stop. We are going to have a team discussion but I feel with Casall right now it would be a shame to put him in a box and say it’s all over. On the other hand you can’t make it better than today. I have a great feeling if we manage we can continue but for how long we have to see."

John Whitaker and the Arko stallion Argento were in flying form in Doha, using a late draw to claim victory in the 5* 1.50/1.55m.

It was no mean feat, the top riders of the world were out in force and 21 contended the hot, competitive jump-off, with Maikel van De Vleuten holding an early lead VDL Groep Quatro.

But John found all the answers to win by a slender 0.15 sec despite a late challenge from Daniel Deusser, who slotted Happiness Van T Paradijs into third.

Michael Whitaker on JB’s Hot Stuff and Alexandra Thornton’s Charielle both returned on four faults in round one.

Photos © LGCT/Stefano Grasso