The London Knights are in pole position to defend their title on home ground


The London Knights catapulted themselves into the best position possible on home turf in London today after Ben Maher and Olivier Philippaerts pulled off flawless performances.

With their two top horses, Explosion W and H&M Extra, the pair wowed the crowds, setting themselves up to repeat their victory of 2018 at the beautiful Royal Hospital Chelsea. Only four teams managed a double clear today, with Valkenswaard United, St Tropez Pirates and current ranking leaders Miami Celtics hot on the heels of the Knights.

Ben Maher praised his top horse Explosion W, with the chestnut gelding producing yet another clear for the team:

"He jumped great. He felt good, he felt fresh, so we’ll have to have a talk after this and see what the plans are for tomorrow. But the team’s in top position; we are last to go tomorrow. We did everything we could today, so hopefully it continues. I hope we’re standing here tomorrow.”

Olivier Philippaerts explained that they would still have plenty to do however to achieve that goal:

“The best teams, for the moment, are still up front, so clear rounds today was not enough; tomorrow we have to do the same to move up the spots. I think Miami [Celtics] and St Tropez Pirates [are ones to watch] - for sure they have good teams here and they’ll be ready to win tomorrow.”

Alan Wade built a testing first track for the 14th round of competition in the 2019 GCL Championship, with many of the fences featuring typically British depictions, including a London Underground double, a Big Ben vertical and a colourful London-etched plank. The biggest troublemaker for the horse and rider combinations however was a light, long-striding treble, the second element - a broad oxer - tumbling time and time again. The final fence - a Longines vertical - also caused heartache for many, as they pushed to finish clear and within the time allowed.

Olivier Philippaerts was the first for the home city team the London Knights, his scarlet coat matching that of the watching Chelsea Pensioners. Olivier brought out his top horse H&M Extra, and looked to be going for a steadier clear. Their tactic paid off, and they came home with a clean sheet, passing the baton to experienced teammate and team manager Ben Maher. He brought out his top horse Explosion W, and the duo looked on flying form, crossing the finish line to a raucous applause from the crowd. The Knights would be the first to finish with a double clear, putting them in a strong position for tomorrow’s showdown with two sec to spare over their nearest rivals.

Michael Whitaker was looking to perform well on home soil for the Doha Falcons with his fiery grey mare For Fun looking keen and enthusiastic in the arena. But there was heartache as the final fence fell, the Longines vertical just tumbling after For Fun clipped it with her hind legs. Jur Vrieling was next to go, his bay gelding Davall his choice of ride for this round of competition. But another fence added to their woes, the Falcons finishing on eight overall.

Watched on by New York Empire team owner and teammate Georgina Bloomberg, Denis Lynch and GC Chopin’s Bushi went for the wider turns to give themselves as much chance as possible to finish clear. But the 13 year old gelding just froze in the air over the penultimate fence - the GCL oxer and picking up four faults for the team. Scott Brash and Hello Mr President - last year’s LGCT Grand Prix of London winning combination - were next to go, the 10-year-old flying over the course. They had a sticky moment at the Liverpool-lined oxer, but flew home to finish clear to the roar of the fans, and in the fastest time of all so far. The team would finish with a fast four faults to stand in fifth after the first round.

Current ranking leaders Miami Celtics fielded Jessica Springsteen and Harry Charles for this round of action, hoping to extend their lead over the rest of the teams. Watched on by father Bruce Springsteen in the VIP hospitality, first to go Jessica set off with RMF Zecilie, and the pair were foot-perfect, finishing clear for the Celtics. Under-25 rider Harry Charles - who made an impressive Tour debut at this show in 2018 - brought out his top horse ABC Quantum Cruise. The horse became a little strong towards the end of the course, but they kept it together, finishing with a double clear and in fourth place keeping the Celtics in with a chance of a podium place tomorrow.

London 2012 Olympic team-mates and recently selected European championship contenders Scott on Hello Mr President and Ben aboard Explosion W finished fourth and fifth in the 1.50/1.55m speed which ran concurrently with round one of the GCL. They were 3.55 sec behind the winner, The Netherlands’ Harrie Smoulders and Cas.

Guy Williams had to settle for second in the first of the 5* classes with Cicero II. Fifty-four competitors tackled this 1.45m two-phase with Guy and the Cicero Z Van Paemel/Guidam 12-year-old only 0.31 sec behind the winner The Netherlands’ Jur Vrieling and Dallas VDL. Emily Moffitt took seventh on Tipsy Du Terral and Alexandra Thornton was also double clear for 12th on HHS Figero.

Brits landed the top two places in the 2* 1.40m with Matt Sampson racing to the top on Geneve R to celebrate his 29th birthday in style.

Fifty-two contended this two-phase with Matt edging ahead on the Eldorado VD Zeshoek/Berlin eight-year-old to win by just 0.07 sec. Jess Mendoza jumped the Echo Van Het Neerenbosch nine-year-old Kay in to second. Lily Freeman-Attwood slotted Karibou Horta into fifth ahead of Jay Halim with Aragon Z and Scarlett Charles aboard Lordanos Junior in sixth and seventh.

Imogen Beecroft was hot out of the starting blocks to land the first class of the week. She raced into the top spot of the 2* 1.15m two-phase with the Lord Z 11-year-old Chablis ET, edging ahead by just 0.04 sec.

Brits filled the top three places with Blythe Masters in second on the Luidam 11-year-old Damn Smooth with Alena Hughes and Rainbow in third. Imogen also finished fifth on Untouchable with Charlotte Uden aboard Castle B Quick in sixth and Lila Bremner in seventh on Cocktail D’Azur.

Brits chased hard in the 2* 1.25/1.30m two-phase but they couldn’t catch The USA’s Isabella Russekof, who claimed the win by 0.18 sec on Calvero IV. Flo Norris was the closest for second on the Kashmir Van Schuttershof nine-year-old Kadence Van’t Lozerhof with Tim Gredley in third aboard the Nonstop 11-year-old Ninkie De Vy Z.

Nina Barbour finished fourth on Douglas Delight just ahead of Angie Thompson in fifth on Boogie Woogie.

Text and Photos © Jumping Around & LGCT/Stefano Grasso

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