The German rider picks up a big check as the Global Champions Tour kicks off.
Arezzo, in central Italy, is famous for its medieval jousting tournament, which is still held to this day, but on April 2-5 it hosted the opening leg of a different equestrian spectacle.
The Global Champions Tour has become one of the most prestigious competitions in show jumping since its inception in 2006. For Tour founder and President Jan Tops, the concept was simple—the best riders, the best horses, the best venues and the best prize money. Open only to the world’s highest-ranked riders by invitation, the CN-sponsored Tour has become what Saratoga, N.Y., is to horse racing, a gorgeous festival of excellence.
There are only six classes at each of the GCT shows, and Arezzo offered more than $350,000 in prize money in the grand prix.
Laura Kraut traveled to Europe for the GCT shows with Olympic partner Cedric and veteran campaigner Anthem to represent U.S. interests. There was also a significant South American contingent—Bernardo Alves and Alvaro Miranda of Brazil and Jaime Azcarraga of Mexico.
But the opposition was fierce, reading like a who’s who of show jumping: Jessica Kürten, current GCT champion, World Cup Final winner Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, reigning World Champion Jos Lansink, former World Champion Michel Robert and new superstar Kevin Staut from France, German legend Ludger Beerbaum and Australia’s leading lady, Edwina Alexander.
With this level of competition, it was unlikely anyone would really dominate, and the preliminary classes were well divided among the nations. Julian Epaillard (France), Bernardo Alves, Daniel Deusser (Germany), Henk van de Po (the Netherlands) and to the home crowd’s delight, local hero Gianni Govoni, all made it to the podium.
Govoni is Italy’s first rider to be ranked in the top 30 of the Rolex FEI World Show Jumping Rankings for some time and is well known for his determination to win. This is someone who does not really understand the theory of going for a safe, clean round in jump-offs, making him extremely exciting to watch.
Kraut was having one of those annoying “4 fault type weekends” and did not make the winners roster, but there was still the grand prix to play for.
Jumped over two rounds, both at 1.60 meters, with a jump-off if faults were still equal, the grand prix awarded more than $125,000 to the winner. At first, it did look as if course designer Uliano Vezzani might have been a little easy on the competitors; of the 18 best rounds who qualify for the second phase, 15 were clear.
Kraut did not make the cut for Round 2 when Cedric barely breathed on the flimsy gate at the last fence, dropping it to rob them of going further. Kraut was philosophical about it. “It is just one of those things. I am going home on Sunday for a big class in Charlotte, N.C., and then on April 15th I will be shipping 10 horses back to Europe for the next leg of the Tour and also the Super League Nations Cup shows,” she said.
In Round 2, the course whittled the riders with 0 faults to their name down to 10, who would jump off. Michel Robert, amongst the 10, commented, “I think this is the first big show of the season, and the course builder does a good job because there have been enough small faults, but we also have enough left in for a good jump-off without being too hard on the horses. I love my mare. This is her first grand prix this year, and I do not want to upset her with too technical courses now.”
Ireland’s Denis Lynch went first on his Olympic ride Lantinus but had the second fence down, just slightly missing the turn, although his time of 35.52 looked quick. The next to go was Sweden’s Rolf-Goran Bengtsson, winner of Arezzo’s grand prix the previous week, and he was a fraction slower but did leave all fences intact on Ninja La Silla.
However, neither Alvardo Miranda on AD Picolien Zeldenrust nor Kevin Staut on Kraque Boom could better Bengtsson, though both were clear. Alexander, on Itot Du Chateau, and Robert Whitaker, on Casino, both went faster but hit the last oxer.
It took German Marco Kutscher to finally get a fraction in front of the Swede. Cash did not appear to be moving fast at all but was very smooth and fluent, and the clock stopped at 34.55 seconds.
Robert then persuaded his beloved Kellemoi de Pepita to finish clean in 35.04 seconds, and last to go, Bernardo Alves, put in a spirited attempt to win but ended up third on Chupa Chup.
Kutscher appeared to be overwhelmed by his success. “I cannot believe I have won—Cash was fantastic,” he said. “I think I have become braver with the way I ride him because he is sensitive, and maybe I have been a little cautious in the past. I am very lucky though because I can take Cornet Obolensky to Las Vegas for the Rolex FEI World Cup Final and save Cash for the Global Champions Tour. The GCT Final [in Doha, Qatar, in November] is definitely one of my goals. Winning here is a big step toward that.”
The Tour moves on to Valencia, Spain, on May 8, where Laura Kraut will be joined by fellow American Lauren Hough.