Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) sent pulses racing with a formidable F1-style victory on Beauville Z in the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix du Prince de Monaco presented by Tennor on the 10th leg of the International circuit.
Barely a second separated the top four riders in a breathtakingly fast 10-way jump-off where Bassem Mohammed (QAT) and Gunder stepped up on the podium as the runner-up, while the lightning-quick combination of Julien Epaillard (FRA) and Usual Suspect d’Auge could only manage a third place finish.
A thrilled van der Vleuten said: “It’s incredible – this horse really fights for me. I spoke with my dad earlier this week as to whether it was too early to bring him [Beauville Z] here as first horse but it happens sometimes.
“When I saw Julien on the screen, I could bet on it that he should win; he went full out everywhere. I was just a bit faster and I gave it everything today. I had some nice forward distances and the horse really worked for me.”
The Dutchman, who becomes the 10th rider to qualify for the LGCT Super Grand Prix at the GC Prague Playoffs in November, explained: “A few times I’ve come very close to qualifying, but that was really my goal to be one of the riders to take part in the Super Grand Prix this year, so now it’s done it feels good.”
Bassem Hassan Mohammed made history in Monaco in 2014 by taking the country’s first ever LGCT Grand Prix win with his horse Victoria. This year he had to settle for second, but was delighted nonetheless and the Qatari rider explained: “Gunder is always very good in the jump-off and today he jumped really amazing. With all these top riders it is never over until the end.”
Spectators squeezed into every available space round the outside of the arena and filled every seat as the champagne-soaked trio paraded on their lap of honour, appreciative of the world class sport they had witnessed on a sizzling evening in the magical Port Hercule in Monaco.
Lars Windhorst, Founder and CEO of Tennor, presenting sponsor of the LGCT Grand Prix du Prince de Monaco, was among those who took to the red carpet for the prize-giving ceremony, where he was joined by LGCT Founder and President Jan Tops, M. Charles Villoz (Vice President Longines), M.Frederic Bondoux (Director of Longines France) and His Excellence Monsieur Jacques Boisson.
There is no change at the top of the leader board in the Championship race, with Pieter Devos (BEL) still leading the way but Ben Maher (GBR) jumps ahead of Daniel Deusser (GER) and this win in Monaco pushes Maikel van der Vleuten up to fourth position with 9 events left to go.
Stunning images of the arena, which is nestled beneath the Prince’s Palace and has spectacular views across the deep water harbour where some of the world’s largest super yachts are moored, were beamed around the world as the action got underway for the 10th event of the 2019 LGCT series.
Course-designer Frank Rothenberger had hot-footed it from Cascais, Estoril, last week where he had built one of the most substantial tracks of the 2019 season on the big grass arena and there was no let-up for another world class field in the tight confines of the pristine arena nestled under the Formula 1 pit lane in the Principality of Monaco. Speaking at the press conference this evening, Frank said: “The LGCTs are by far the shows with the highest levels in the world. Big arenas, small arenas, always top riders and top sport. The levels are really high. It was unbelievably fast.”
It was standing room only for an evening of scintillating sport where 15 jumping efforts in round one took riders in to every corner and the length and breadth of the ring. Among guests watching from the hospitality were Georgina Bloomberg and friends, Lars Windhorst with partner Christin Bahla, and football star Olivier Giroud as a fashionable crowd enjoyed an evening of thrilling sporting entertainment.
Rothenberger tested competitors in particular with an unusual route of Longines vertical-oxer-vertical triple combination leading straight round the bend to a double combination and the course finished with a delicate stand-alone vertical, which caused plenty of heartache along the way.
Tourists and show jumping fans lined the perimeter of the arena as the evening’s action got underway.
An elite field of 35 lined up as dusk descended over the Port Hercule and the in-form Ben Maher (GBR) commenced proceedings with F One USA. This stallion was making his Grand Prix debut and showed some inexperience to finish with 8 jumping faults, just over the time allowed.
The world number three and a dual LGCT Grand Prix winner on the Tour this season, including in Cascais, Estoril the week before, Martin Fuchs (SUI) and Clooney 51 were clear all the way until clipping the final fence.
Third rider to go, Paul Estermann (SUI), left all the fences intact and crossed the line just outside the time allowed on Lord Pepsi but when the maximum time was adjusted, he was hailed as the first rider to be allocated a place in tonight’s jump-off.
Among the big names we bid farewell to as faulters in round one were Marcus Ehning (GER) with Cristy, Laura Kraut (USA) on Curious George and Ludger Beerbaum (GER) on Chacon.
But it wasn’t long before Julien Epaillard (FRA) – who has already booked his place in the LGCT Super Grand Prix – rode a red hot round on Usual Suspect D’Auge. He was soon joined by Olivier Robert (FAR) quickly adding to the French jubilations with a third clear on Vangog du Mas Garnier.
Despite helping Scandinavian Vikings to their first success in the GCL earlier in the evening, neither Geir Gulliksen (NOR) on Gin Chin van het Lindenhof nor Evelina Tovek (SWE) with Dalila de la Pomme could replicate their clears in the LGCT Grand Prix.
The Belgians have been jumping on full throttle all season and Wilm Vermeir (BEL) and IQ van het Steentje had his eyes set on a slot in the LGCT Super Grand Prix when jumping the fourth clear of the night.
In only her second LGCT appearance, a beaming smile came from the next faultless performance from Lucia Le Jeune Vizzini (ITA) on Loro Piana Filou de Muze, before number six swiftly followed from Christian Kukuk (GER) on Limonchello NT to ensure the jump-off was looking hotter and hotter.
Looking right at home under the floodlights, last year’s winner Shane Breen (IRL) on Ipswich van de Wolfsakker cruised round without a jumping fault but suffered the frustration of picking up a time-fault, leaving him without a place in this year’s jump-off.
However better fortunes fell on another previous winner in Monaco, Bassem Hassan Mohammed (QAT), who delivered a powerful seventh clear with Gunder and before long the jump-off was up to eight with the Dutch entering the barrage courtesy of Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) riding Beauville Z.
With thee in-form riders left to go before the conclusion of round one, anticipation sizzled as to which would complete the set. Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) and Toveks Mary Lou motored round clear, 19-year-old Harry Charles (GBR) and Borsato missed out with a score of 9, before concluding rider Kevin Staut (FRA) on For Joy Van’t Zorgvliet HDC made it the perfect 10 through to the jump-off, seizing pole position as the fastest of those going with a place in the final decider.
10 of the world’s greatest horse and rider combinations had earned their place in tonight’s jump-off and, under the dazzling spotlights, the temperatures were set to rise once again as riders shifted into top gear and tension went sky high.
First out of the blocks with his eye on a golden ticket to the LGCT Super Grand Prix was Paul Estermann and Lord Pepsi and they opened up in dazzling style. Hand-brake turns kept their route ultra-tight, but the vertical three from home fell and they finished with four faults in what looked a quick time of 35.43.
Hot on their heels, Julien Epaillard and Usual Suspect D’Auge proved as agile as they came to negotiate every turn at top speed. They took out a stride, making it in eight, down to the penultimate fence and continued to rocket round clear and over the finish line in 33.52. That performance was going to take some beating.
Fellow Frenchman Olivier Robert on Vangog du Mas Garnier faced disappointment when the tricky third fence fell but remained quick, powering home in a time of 34.80 but with 4 to add.
Wilm Vermeir and IQ van het Steentje stayed smooth but marginally wider on the bends, also adding 4 in a time of 36.91.
Riding for the clear, Lucia Le Jeune Vizzini on Loro Piana Filou de Muze stopped the clock in a significantly slower time of 38.05 but benefitted hugely from a zero score, slotting into second at the halfway stage.
Christian Kukuk also played it safe with Limonchello NT, finishing some four seconds slower than the leader in 37.10 but this was enough to push him up the leader board and into the runner up spot.
Pulses were sent racing once again as Bassem Mohammed and Gunder pivoted round the opening few roll-backs. The Qatari rider pushed every button and, accelerating round the latter fences, the brilliant pair scorched home and into the lead, clear in 33.12, to appreciative cheers.
Monaco never fails to deliver with a F1-style finish however and immediately, Maikel van der Vleuten increased the pace further still with the magnificent nine-year-old Beauvuille Z and the pair clearly had the magic touch tonight. A breathtaking shot to the last rocketed them into the lead with a clear in 33.06 with the adrenalin still pumping as two of the circuit’s fastest riders entered the ring.
Henrik von Eckermann pitched forward in the saddle on the great mare Toveks Mary Lou, clearly set for real sprint, but amazingly they just couldn’t match the pace set by van der Vleuten and they slipped into fourth place with their time of 34.14.
And then there was one.
Kevin Staut had a real look of determination and all the credentials to take the win on For Joy van’t Zorgvliet HDC, but when the catchy third fence fell again and a second fence fell, his time of 34.02 was largely irrelevant as the night belonged to Dutchman Maikel van der Vleuten.
The Championship race moves north to Paris next week (5th to 7th July) for leg 11 of the 2019 Tour in front of the iconic Eiffel Tower.
Jan Tops, President of LGCT, said: “I keep saying it can’t get better but we keep repeating the amazing jump offs. It is absolutely top sport all the time. When I saw Julien I thought the class was over, every week is amazing sport. That is the beauty of the circuit, the rider how wins is for me really the world champion in our sport.”
Monaco has been on the LGCT calendar since the circuit was founded in 2006 and the breathtaking setting has seen some of the most electrifying jump offs. Julien Epaillard spoke of his “fantastic weekend” after winning one of the 5* competitors, coming second in the GCL team showdown and third in the LGCT Grand Prix.
Second place rider Bassem Mohammed said: “Gunder did a good job today and I’m really happy for our finish here, he jumped amazing. Our sport today is really the best of the best.”
Winner Maikel van der Vleuten said: “My horse is only a 9 year old, when I jumped in Madrid a few weeks ago that was his first Grand Prix. I spoke with my dad before we came to see if it was too early to bring him to Monaco as my first horse. My father was here to look at all the other riders jump and when he came to me he said it will be difficult to win, and everyone was knocking jumps down so maybe it would be safer to try and keep the clear round.
“I was motivated to win today. My horse likes to jump to the left so maybe after number two he was already leaning left so I could make it up [on time], he is also always forward out of the turn. Last year I couldn’t make the [LGCT] Super Grand Prix so this year I am very happy and I am going to give it a very good try.’