In the perfect prelude to Saturday’s GCL and Longines Global Champions Tour of Cannes, a high-octane race to the finish saw Pieter Devos (BEL) take a breathtaking win with top horse Apart in the 1.55m Prix L.Eclerc speed class.
As the floodlights came on for the second day of competition, spectators and VIPs were dazzled with top sport, as the Belgian rider took the victory ahead of Niels Bruynseels (BEL) in second and Cameron Hanley (IRL) in third.
A delighted Devos spoke after his round: “One of my best friends was in the lead and I was motivated to catch him! My horse did a great job. I knew I had to go very fast but I stuck with my plan so I’m very happy. Tomorrow is an important day still to come – it’s a fantastic show, the crowd is very motivated and I’ll be very motivated too!”
Champion golfer Lee Westwood OBE was among guests at the event and said: “I’ve watched them walk the course and things like that and its lovely to see the preparation that they put in and the bond that they have with the horses. And the mental preparation they’re all going through as well as like the physical. We like Scott Brash, so we’ll be cheering for him.” As he inspected the GC fence in the sand arena Lee was asked how he would approach the jump and joked: “I think I would use a sand iron!”
Uliano Vezzani’s course spanned the full length of the sand arena, with a straightforward but technical 1.55m course. As well as floodlights and dancing shadows to contend with, a light green and white treble combination set across the long side and a tricky inside line to a GC plank challenged the very best show jumpers. A wide Volvo oxer dashed the hopes of many, as did the formidable Longines oxer, and a spooky-looking Hotel Martinez fence featuring a bright blue liverpool also caught out a few.
As the sporting excitment unfolded, spectators and viewers were treated to spectacular aerial scenes of the arena only metres from the famous bay of Cannes.
First to go clear was Christian Rhomberg (AUT) with Cornetta 13, the Austrian delighted with his mare’s performance. World Number 1 rider Harrie Smolders (NED) powered his World Number 1 horse Zinius to a brilliantly quick clear, earning a place in the jump-off and looking a real danger for the win tonight.
He was followed by Jos Verlooy (BEL) with Igor, who was delighted after his round saying: “I have my two strongest horses here and they’re jumping incredibly good. The puzzle is coming together now – not just the results but also the ride-ability and I’m thinking about my future career with him. He’s still green, but I’ll take my chances [in the jump-off] and see where we end up!”
But there were plenty of hard luck stories, with a shock result from Frenchman Kevin Staut (FRA) and Equador van’T Roosakker after a refusal and plenty of faults, and retirements for Lorenzo de Luca (ITA) with De Flipper and Jur Vrieling (NED) with Etoulon VDL.
After a long wait, the legendary Ludger Beerbaum (GER) pulled a clear out of his hat with Cool Down, stopping the clock in 79s to the millisecond. He was quickly joined by Alexandra Paillot (FRA) with Polias de Blondel, Niels Bruynseels (BEL) with Lady Cracotte, Jessica Springsteen (USA) with RMF Zecile, Cameron Hanley (IRL) with Eis Isaura, Peder Fredricson (SWE) with Hansson WL, Olivier Philippaerts (BEL) with Extra, Carlos Lopez (COL) with G&C Arrayan, Jérôme Guery (BEL) with Celvin, Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (SWE) with Crunch 3 and Pieter Devos (BEL) with Apart.
The 14 rider jump-off kicked off with Christian Rhomberg (AUT) who had the unenviable task of being the early pathfinder, setting a steady but beatable 41.35s.
World Number 1 Harrie Smolders (NED) set off at a blinding pace with Zinius, the bay gelding lightning fast and up on time. But at the gallop to the last the crowd were left on the edge of their seats as Zinius took aversion to the final oxer, running out and meaning Smolders had to circle back with four faults to boot.
Jos Verlooy (BEL), student of Smolders, rode the 9 year old Igor, the young talent managing the chestnut horse brilliantly to better Rhomberg’s time in 38.19s. But his lead was short-lived as French rider Alexandra Paillot (FRA) powered to front in 37.71s much to the delight of the local crowd who gave their rider a standing ovation as she exited the arena.
Niels Bruynseels (BEL) rocketed the jump-off up another level with the effortlessly fast Lady Cracotte – the pair flying around the arena. Almost two seconds faster, the Belgian rider stopped the clock in an unbelievable 35.81s, daring the rest of the field to better his time.
The pressure was on and poles fell for Jessica Springsteen (USA), Olivier Philippaerts (BEL), Jerome Guery (BEL), Carlos Lopez (COL) and Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (SWE).
Cameron Hanley (IRL) put in a brave try, fresh from his win earlier in the day, but finished just shy of Bruynseels to finish in 36.21s. Similarly Peder Fredricson (SWE) pulled out a great effort, but slipped behind Hanley in 37.17s.
One final rider stood in the way of Bruynseels and the win. Compatriot Pieter Devos (BEL) cantered into the arena with the eye-catching Apart, the flashy chestnut raring to get his jump-off round started.
Up on time to start, the combination shaved off milliseconds on the turns, the agile horse responding to every movement from Devos – they looked as though they had the win in the bag as they approached the final line.
But as they approached the last fence, the pair ran sideways, with Apart looking worrying close to ducking out at the last minute in the same way Zinius had earlier. But Devos put the pedal to the metal, with Apart flying over the final fence in a grandstand finish, slipping just ahead of Bruynseels in 35.26s. Punching the air in delight, the Belgian rider celebrated the win alongside friend and compatriot Bruynseels, with Cameron Hanley (IRL) rounding out third.
Saturday will see the final day of action, where the GCL Cannes final will kick off at 18:15 local time, with the LGCT Grand Prix of Cannes taking place at 21:45. All the action will be streamed live via GC TV, available on the www.gcglobalchampions.com