Rolf-Göran Bengtsson and Harrie Smolders were the victorious dream team in Valkenswaard tonight in a spectacular precursor to the launch of Global Champions League in 2016. Riding as Team Madrid, they took the win over Edwina Tops-Alexander and Henk van de Pol who finished in second place as Team Chantilly, with Daniel Deusser and Christina Liebherr taking third for Team Hamburg.
It was revealed that teams for the new League, which will offer prize money of €7.5 million, are already lined up as anticipation for the new show jumping format gathers momentum. Speaking about the new League, Jan Tops said: “This year we already have six teams committed for next year. You can mix different nations and get the best of the best together and that is what makes it different from the Nations Cup. It is going to be very exciting to see that and follow that next year.”
Tonight 15 teams of the world’s best riders added a unique dimension to a stunning evening of world class sport and entertainment. The competition was part of the Longines Global Champions Tour of Valkenswaard and thrilled the crowds and international guests at the new Tops International Arena.
Winning riders Rolf-Göran Bengtsson and Harrie Smolders were paired as Team Madrid after a random draw supervised by the FEI. Each team was named was destinations on the Tour calendar and after their victory flying Dutchman Harrie declared: “It was always a dream to ride in a team once with him and it came out.”
The nail-biting Team Competition had fans on the edge of their seats as riders who are normally rivals were paired up and depending on each other for success. Tactics and strategy came into play as tension built during the two-round competition played out under floodlights at the state-of-the-art facility.
Ahead of the team competition, young singing sensation Amira wowed the crowd in a spectacular opening show. The 11-year-old star from The Netherlands sang Nessum Dorma and left spectators stunned at her talent. Later she met rock star Bruce Springsteen, who was in the audience with his wife Patti and daughter Jessica. Amira had performed in a dazzling, high energy show with an orchestra, gospel choir and dancers.
As the sun made its descent over the beautiful Spider reception, the riders took to the arena to test out the first round of the special team competition in Valkenswaard. With their own signature soundtrack to enter the arena, riders joined forces to battle it out for their share of €200,000 in prize money.
Harrie Smolders – who was teamed with Rolf-Göran Bengtsson – rose to the challenge of setting the pace, and took his bay 11 year old mare Aiyetoro clear to the cheers of the local crowd. As the first of the team riders entered the stunning grass arena it soon became clear that the time allowed of 80 seconds would be tight, and as the riders took their chances around the 1,55m course many picked up a few time faults which would prove costly to the final result.
While the competition featured many of the best riders in the world, it was designed to test, as the layout encouraged the horses forward and the long straight lines across the vast arena posed a technical challenge as well as pace. Edwina Tops-Alexander was a class act, riding a stunning round with her mare Heidi du Ruisseau Z putting Team Chantilly right at the sharp end of the grid and put the pressure on for teammate Henk van de Pol. However, Henk rose to the challenge and completed a strong round with Spartacus TN with the quickest time so far, meaning that Team Chantilly sailed through to the second round and in pole position to start.
Ludger Beerbaum and Kevin Staut were another pair to watch as they put in a strong first round, with Ludger picking up an unlucky time fault, taking them through on a score of 1. However one fence down for Kevin, and an unusual two for Ludger saw them finish the competition in 5th place. In matching jackets, the all girl team of Luciana Diniz and Tiffany Foster put up a strong performance, finishing the first round on just 5 faults in total. Likewise the combination of Daniel Deusser and Christina Liebherr rode through on a score of five, and with some of the big names toppling the fences, there was everything to play for as the top eight went through to round two.
The second round course was fair and again open, drawing horse and riders into mistakes, and encouraging a fast pace, in particular towards the last line. With the added pressure and responsibility of being in the team, the battle was on as the floodlights lit the arena.
However it was Harrie Smolders and Rolf-Göran Bengtsson who came out on top, finishing in a joint time of 160.8 and picking up just one time fault. Edwina and Henk looked set to beat them, but the penultimate fence caught the Dutch rider out to the groans of the home crowd – and Edwina – and four faults was added to their combined time of 155,99. Despite being on 5 faults as they entered round two, both Daniel Deusser and Christina Liebherr for Team Hamburg rode clear, picking up just one time fault each to leave them in the final podium position.
Jan Tops – President of Longines Global Champions Tour: “The whole evening was fantastic, it was for sure a great course again from Uliano and great sport, only one team clear and the ambience in the new stadium was fantastic on the Friday night. It was the first time we have jumped in the evening in front of so many people, I think it was amazing. This is what the format for next year for the League will be. It will be on the Friday evening, the team will exist of five people and the team manager or the team owner can decide two riders to ride in the class. It is going to be over 15 events, the whole year, and will have good prize money of seven and a half million over the Tour, every class will be 200,000, so it’s going to be amazing sport and I think that the riders will prepare their good horses also for the Friday night.