Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2023

Govoni Gets A Global Champions Tour Win In Rio De Janeiro

The weather doesn’t impress in the Southern Hemisphere, but the Italian rider still scores his biggest career victory.



The weather doesn’t impress in the Southern Hemisphere, but the Italian rider still scores his biggest career victory.

The Global Champions Tour riders who arrived in Brazil for the seventh leg of the series, held July 31-Aug. 2 in Rio de Janeiro, were met with a decidedly wet welcome.

As the worst rains in 48 years flooded the city and submerged the new international arena at the Sociedade Hippica Brazileira, many riders were left wondering whether their incredible journeys to the Southern Hemisphere had been made in vain.

But despite the cancellation of Friday’s classes, a Herculean effort by organizer Doda de Miranda, his wife and the show’s namesake, Athina Onassis, and his team enabled the GCT to continue as planned on Saturday, when Italian rider Gianni Govoni rose to the occasion with the support of Brazil’s Latin-loving fans and scored a huge win aboard Joyau D’Opal.

“I’ve never finished better than 20th in a GCT Grand Prix, so I didn’t have enough points to even have a chance [to go to the Final, in Doha, Qatar],” Govoni said. “But now I do!”

Television commitments meant that the first class in the revised schedule had to be the $409,175 GCT Grand Prix, so some of the horses hadn’t had a single jump in an arena since arriving. Consequently, course designer Uliano Verzzani was conspicuously kinder to the 41 starters than might usually be expected in this sort of class, and eight horses were completely clear in the first round. They were joined by 10 fast four-faulters for the second, including U.S. rider Richard Spooner with Cristallo. They had a fast and brilliant clean trip in the jump-off to ultimately finish “best of the rest” in eleventh.

Only five riders managed to remain on a fault-free score in the second round, but as they included Olympic champions Eric Lamaze and Hickstead, GCT Estoril (Portugal) winners Leopold Van Asten with VDL Groep Santana B and the ever-experienced German team of Marco Kutscher and Cornet Obolensky, the jump-off was certain to be exciting. On the other hand, Govoni, despite winning three classes at San Patrignano CSI***** (Italy) the week before, was not the most familiar name west of the Atlantic.

Kutscher jumped first and set a time of 37.40, which neither Van Asten nor Belgian rider Judy-Ann Melchior (Levisto Z) could better. But Lamaze had won his Olympic medal for Canada after a jump-off at speed, and no one was surprised when a brilliant turn to the wall shaved nearly a second off the German’s time.


At this point most observers considered the contest to be over, but from the moment Govoni sent his 12-year-old Selle Français gelding through the start, it was clear he was planning to win, and the Brazilian crowd cheered him every single stride.

Joyau D’Opal galloped at the wall as if it were a cavaletti and stopped the clock to a standing ovation 0.36 seconds faster than the Canadian. This was the biggest career win so far for Govoni. His feat was all the more remarkable considering the fact that the Italian has only three top-level horses, and one of those is a young horse.

“So if you’re asking me if I’ll stick with [Joyau D’Opal] for the next round in Valkenswaard [the Netherlands], well, I haven’t got much choice about it!” he said, laughing. “[My second horse] Love Affair will not be suited by that ring, and my other horse is having a break after San Patrignano, so I’ll have to.”

Govoni didn’t rest on his laurels after his GCT victory, however. He returned to the ring an hour later on his speedy mare Love Affair and collected another hefty paycheck in the 1.4-meter open class. They topped a field of 51 horses.

But the Rio crowd had not seen the last of Govoni, and Sunday opened with the Coca Cola Challenge, 1.45-meter jump-off class.

The Italian joined a quintet of other riders, who consequently had won eight GCT classes between them in 2009, in the final. But Govoni, who had by then attained near-national hero status amongst the Brazilian fans, galloped Ludo Phillipaerts, Harry Smolders, Marco Kutscher and Cassio Rivetti into the ground. Showing no sign of exertion from the night before, Love Affair shot around the course to win by a full 3 seconds.

“Even if the others had started at the third fence, they wouldn’t have beaten that,” commented a watching Daniel Deusser in awe.

Sunday’s final feature, the Embratel Masters, carried a total of $409,175 in prize money, but Govoni had to content himself with his hat trick of wins. Joyau D’ Opal refused to go near the water tray fence, something he’s prone to do on occasion.


As the riders had been able to jump enough to get their eyes set by that point, the Masters course was a touch more difficult than the GCT Grand Prix.

In the 10-horse jump-off, Lamaze with Hickstead went clear and fast, but three riders were eventually able to best him. Prince Abdullah al Saud of Saudi Arabia (Mobily Allah Jabek) was slower, but a zero score put him ahead of Lamaze, who was carrying 4 faults from the previous round.

Australian Edwina Alexander was looking quite the winner until her tiny chestnut, Isovlas Itot du Chateau, touched the second part of the double, which dropped her behind the Saudi rider.

That meant Swiss rider Steve Guerdat could realistically take his time with his round and his horse Tresor, who’s heading for the European Championships next, never looked in any danger of touching a pole. Guerdat’s greater experience made sure the clock stopped a second up on his royal rival.

Despite earlier vociferous concern expressed about the ground and the organization, Guerdat was swift to give credit where it was due after the class.

“I know Rio is bidding for the 2016 [Olympic] Games, but I’ve not been here before, or even to South America, so it’s difficult for me to compare it to other cities bidding,” he said. “But in the end we’ve had great sport here; I’m very happy and will come back if I can.”

Sadly for U.S. fans, Guerdat also concluded a deal to buy Hough’s promising young horse, Urgent, while at the show. 




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