The Longines Global Champions tour is not just a 5* show jumping competition that attracts some of the world’s best riders, writes TANIA HUPPATZ.
The Longines Athina Onassis Horse Show, part of the Longines Global Champions Tour (LGCT), was held in Ramatuelle, Saint Tropez last month. Ramatuelle is five in a series of 16 show jumping competitions, with the playoffs to be held in Prague this November. And for the record, riders compete in the series not just for the glory – because if successful, they’re also in contention for some serious prize money.
Each year, the LGCT is held across three continents in some of the world’s most stunning locations – think Doha, Miami Beach, Paris, Monaco, London, Cannes, New York, Rome Berlin, Prague – and the Saint Tropez event is no exception. As you drive down the hill into Ramatuelle, the sea sparkles in the background. The elegant show venue is set back from stunningly beautiful Pampelonne Beach, with a variety of eye-wateringly expensive yachts anchored just offshore.
Harry Charles (GBR), an up and coming U25 rider delivered some great rounds.
The tour attracts the world’s best equestrians, including many Olympians and Nations Cup winners. Competing in last month’s event were Scott Brash (GBR), Ben Maher (GBR), Jessica Springsteen (US), Laura Kraut (US), Spencer Smith (US), Edwina Alexander-Tops (AUS), Harry Smolders (NED), Kevin Staut (FRE), Jerome Guery (BEL), Peder Fredricson (SWE), Henrik von Eckermann (SWE), Bertram Allen (IRE), and many more top names.
The event is unashamedly glamorous, with spectators decked out in designer labels as they enjoy the elegant lounge and bar area, not to mention the VIP dining areas that encompass both sides of the arena so that guests need never miss a moment. It truly is an event designed as much for spectators as it is for the riders and their horses. The atmosphere is electric and, with music playing throughout the day, the mood festive.
French course designer Gregory Bodo created some flowing tracks that included enough technical challenges to test both agility and speed. With the tricky combinations proving to be where most came unstuck, many took a rail to just miss out on the jump off.
Spencer Smith (USA) rode Theodore Manciais into third place in the hotly contested Global Champions CSI5* 1.6m Grand Prix.
The commentating, both in the local French and in English, was fantastic. Frederik De Backer, a Global Champions’ commentator, spoke excellent English and was
well versed in the history of both the riders and their horses, while media representative Floss Bish-Jones interviewed the winning riders after each competition. Similar to the World Equestrian Games and the Olympics, riders were made to feel justifiably proud when their country’s national anthem played as they took their place on the winners’ podium.
It was also wonderful to see so many inspiring young riders competing, the perfect opportunity for them to experience an event on the global stage. Gilles Thomas (BEL) and Harry Charles (GBP) both delivered some great rounds as did so many other young riders. CSI2* events were held early on all days of the competition, giving riders the opportunity to bring younger horses to experience the atmosphere and hone their show jumping skills.
Friday’s main event was the PremiuMares Prix CSI5* against the clock with a jump off at 1.50m. This was spectacularly won by French rider Julien Epaillard with his horse Donatello d’Auge, securing him his portion of the €55,000 prize purse – and at just over $82,000 Australian that’s not to be sneezed at!
With over 45 plus riders in contention, only 11 jumped clear. Second place went to young rider Gilles Thomas on his stunning black stallion Feromas van Beek Z, while Swedish rider and reigning Global Champion Peder Fredricson took out third place on H&M All In, his Olympic gold medal mount. It was heartbreak for Jessica Springsteen who came tantalisingly close, but just missed out on one of the top three placings.
On Saturday, the second Global Champions League Team event was contested against the clock at 1.55m, with a prize purse of €98,000 (just shy of A$147,500). Each team was made up of six equestrians from different nations, including one under 25-year-old, with only two riders competing at a time. The Prague Lions took home the win with Neils Bruynseels on Delux van T & L, and Pieter Devos on Mom’s Toupie de la Roque. In second place were the Stockholm Hearts: Malin Baryrard-Johnsson with H&M Indiana, and Peder Fredricson riding H&M All In, both of whom were members of the Swedish team that won gold in Tokyo. Third place went to the Shanghai Swans with Jeanne Sadran and Vannan, and Christian Ahlmann on Solid Gold Z putting in a very creditable performance.
Sweden’s Malin Baryard-Johnsson and H&M Indiana on their way to winning the Global Champions CSI5* Grand Prix.
The climax of the event was the Global Champions CSI5* 1.6m Grand Prix and jump off with prize money of €300,000 (just under A$448,000). With 34 starts and only 11 clear, the jump off was ‘sit on the edge of your seat’ stuff. Abdel Said (BEL) set what initially seemed to be a scorchingly fast clear round at 35.62, before Spencer Smith came along and picked up the pace with a time of 35.35.
Unbelievable stuff! And just when you thought no one could get any faster, the Netherland’s Harry Smolders went one better with 35.09. But the best was yet to come. Sweden’s Malin Baryard-Johnsson blitzed the field with an exhilaratingly fast clear round, taking the prize at 34.71 with her horse H&M Indiana. Harrie Smolders riding Monaco came a close second and Spencer Smith on Theodore Manciais took third place.
The dignitaries, event sponsors, and Jan Topps, founder and president of the LGCT and GCL, congratulated the riders. The podium came alive with champagne spraying in all directions as the Swedish national anthem played.
Winner of the PremiuMares CSI5* Julien Epaillard (FRA) aboard Donatello d’Auge
After the event, Malin Baryard-Johnsson talked to Floss Bish-Jones about her win and spoke of her special horse: “I am so proud and happy. H&M Indiana is just amazing. Every win is emotional but having everyone here behind me today makes me even happier if that’s even possible! I had to take risks because the riders before me were really fast but I had Marlon Zanotelli, my really good coach with me, who was there with me in Rome as well when I won, and he really pushed me. And we did it!”
Australian rider Edwina Tops-Alexander competed on both days, but like many other riders who found the Gregory Bodos course presented some challenges, she took just one rail to miss out on the jump off, which was very unfortunate.
And on a final note, the roads into Saint Tropez and the Ramatuelle event are narrow and winding, with many a twist and turn. They may even have proved a problem for James Bond navigating them in his convertible! So spare a thought for the trucks transporting horses to and from the event. Kudos to the truck drivers, I say.
Feature image: The winners on the podium for the Global Champions CSI5* 1.6m Grand Prix prize giving. All images by Tania Huppatz.