The opening event of the season at Tops International Arena was received with great enthusiasm by the riders and it offered top-class sport to the viewers at home. The highlight of the first Spring Event, the CSI4* Grand Prix, was held on Sunday afternoon.
It was a wonderful conclusion to a great weekend. In the first round, 11 combinations managed to qualify for the jump-off. Swiss rider Bryan Balsiger was the first to set a fast time with 12-year-old mare AK’s Courage. The next four combinations, Kevin Jochems (Turbo Z), Harrie Smolders (Bingo du Parc), Cian O’Connor (Kilkenny) and Gilles Thomas (Konak), could not improve that time. It was Ben Maher who rode a superb round with the KWPN mare Ginger Blue and crossed the finish line 0.08 seconds faster, thereby taking over the lead. The last rider, Dutchman Marc Houtzager, made a very serious bid for victory. He was faster, 39.85, but at the cost of a fault on the very last obstacle. Maikel van der Vleuten finished third with Beauville Z. A great result considering it was Beauville’s first competition after a period of rest.
Maher was happy with his victory. “There was quite a big and rather tricky course with difficult distances. I often had to make an extra stride. Ginger Blue is very careful. She gave me a very good feeling in the first round and that gave me confidence for the jump-off. I did what I could and Ginger Blue is by nature a very fast horse. Everything went as it should. This is a nice boost for the coming season.”
Belgian Wilm Vermeir became the winner of the 4* Table A direct on time with the nine-year-old KWPN mare Hotshot. He thereby beat the 2017 European Champion, the Swede Peder Fredricson who had saddled Thelma Hastak for this competition. Third place was for Dutchman Kevin Johcems with Egwel.
It remained exciting until the last rider in the final of the Young Horses on Sunday morning. No less than 16 talented horses stayed clear in the first round and 15 came back for the jump-off. Dutch rider Willem Greve set a very fast time as third starter that no rider after him managed to improve until British top rider Ben Maher entered the arena as the last starter. The winner of Saturday’s jump-off was also the fastest in de final. With the super jumping seven-year-old Point Break (SWB), he crossed the finish line in 35.12 seconds. A great result for this young horse that he showed in Valkenswaard for the first time on grass.
Willem Greve was placed second with a time of 35.67 seconds with the BWP mare Pretty Woman van ‘t Paradijs. With this result Pretty Woman was the best of the six year olds. Belgian rider Andres Vereecke came third with the 7-year-old Zangersheide stallion Balouto van Paemel Z.
CSI2* Grand Prix
Nine combinations stayed clear in the first round of the 2* Grand Prix and qualified for the jump-off. First to go was 25-year-old Norwegian Johan-Sebastian Gulliksen with the 13-year-old Zangersheide mare Exit of Ice Z, who delivered a clear round and thus set a target time for the others. The following combinations, Sofie Svensson (Cerano), Wilm Vermeir (Joyride) and Peder Fredricson (H&M All In) did not manage to stay clear. Dutch rider Sanne Thijssen with the big and mighty BWP gelding Genasis showed that it could go faster and improved Gulliksen’s time by 0.28 seconds, taking over the lead from the Norwegian. The only one who could come close was Harrie Smolders with Escape Z who finished in third place with a time of 37.44 seconds.
Sanne was very happy with her victory, “it’s a great feeling, you want to be the best and when you succeed, it’s great.” The course of the jump-off offered some very short turns and that was quite a challenge for Genasis, “he is better on the straight line, but he did really well this time.” Sanne is also happy to be riding in the great grass arena of Tops International Arena again. “Riding on grass has something special and there are not many events on grass. It’s incredible to ride here.”
The 1.35m competition, against the clock, was won by Norway’s Victoria Gulliksen with the eight-year-old Ibiza (KWPN). The Dutch Tom Schellekens with Isabel and Remco Been with Balou van het Molenhof Z finished in second and third place respectively.
Top German rider Marcus Ehning won the 1.35/1.40m class with the eight-year-old Holsteiner stallion Cupfer. In this special class the riders immediately rode their jump-off course after their clear first round. Ehning finished the course in his jump-off round in 31.07 seconds. Grand Prix winner Sanne Thijssen with Belle Fayvinia Z came second and Irishman Max Wachman finished in third place with Brooklyn de Hus.
Belgian Jeroen Appelen won the 1* Grand Prix with the nine-year-old mare Sina (Westf., by Spiderman). The 30-year-old rider rode a clear round in the jump-off in 35.05 seconds. Swiss rider Edwin Smits came second with Inspiration de la Velle. Patrick van der Schans finished in third place with A.S. Damascene for the Netherlands.
The two other classes of the CSI1* were dominated by the ladies. The 1.25m was won by the Dutch Journey van Eerd with Gaudi. British rider Tess Carmichael came second and third with Bangle SR and Atlantis PP Z. In the 1.15m class it was Ireland’s Alice Wachman who came first and second with Cesha OLD and SIEC Cros. Third place went to the French Anne Botella with Dirtydance Brimbelles.
The next event on the calendar at Tops International Arena is the exciting fourth leg of the LGCT and GCL Championships from 4-6 June.