By the GCT
In a spectacular jump-off in front of a full house the US rider left William Funnell on Billy Congo in second place and Edwina Tops-Alexander on Guccio in third and shook up the ranking for the 2013 Longines Global Champions Tour series.
And in a dramatic shift, the leader board has narrowed sharply with the world’s leading riders closer than ever on points, setting up a tense and extremely high calibre battle as we enter the second half of the season starting in Estoril next weekend.
Laura Kraut remains top of the overall ranking on 132 points with Christian Ahlmann in second place on 124 points. But Edwina Tops-Alexander - 2011 and 2012 champion - has shot up to third position and only one point behind Christian. British rider William Funnell has jumped to fourth place on 107 points and Luciana Diniz is in fifth on 106 points.
The second half of the Top 10 is now super tight with Michael Whitaker, Alvaro de Miranda, Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, Denis Lynch and Marcus Ehning all close on points.
Monte-Carlo’s Port Hercule arena was buzzing with packed VIP lounges and spectators crowded into tribunes to catch the action. HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco, Princess Caroline of Hannover, Charlotte Casiraghi as well as French actor's Guillaume Canet and Mario Cotillard all attended. It was clear this week's Longines Global Champions Tour event of Monaco was the must-attend sport's event of Monte Carlo.
It was standing room only in the street alongside the arena as guests on super yachts moored in the harbour also caught a glimpse of the show jumping.
The Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix du Prince de Monaco, presented by HSBC Private Bank with prize money of €285,000, delivered the highest quality sport in the compact arena. In the end only three riders went through to the jump-off which had the crowds on the edge of their seats.
GRAND PRIX REPORT:
The first round track offered its fair share of challenges including a sharp turn off the rail. A few combinations were caught in the triple combination but the last fence, a tall unassuming HSBC vertical, was without a doubt the most challenging fence on course. Set at 1.60 high on very flat cups, the fence required the exact distance and preparation in order to jump clear.
Australia's Amy Graham was the first in the ring aboard her grey stallion Bella Baloubet and jumped clear and within the time. Young British jockey Yazmin Pinchen delivered a clear round aboard her home-bred gelding Van de Vivaldi but a single time fault would stand in her way of a complete clear score.
Frenchman Thierry Rozier was fourth in the ring and earned huge applause as a favourite of Monaco. Thierry has been long-time trainer of Monaco's Charlotte Casiraghi and thus, his entrance into the ring was met with enthusiastic applause.
Thierry rode a clear round aboard the 14 year old gelding Tintero. Unfortunately, a single time fault would light up on the Longines Global Champions Tour scoreboard. Amy Graham held onto the single clear score for an astounding 30 horses before Italy's Juan Carlos Garcia earned the second clear round of the first Grand Prix phase. Richard Spooner would match Juan Carlos' clear round aboard the top-ranking WBFSH Mount Cristallo. William Funnell and Edwina Tops-Alexander would deliver clear rounds as well as Lauren Hough and Christina Liebherr. Lauren Hough and her mare Ohlala were exceptional, jumping a highly skilled round after a strong winter of results in Florida as well as a win in London.
The second round would prove to be equally challenging with only three double clear rounds delivered. Edwina Tops-Alexander was the first rider to deliver a clear score aboard her beautiful black stallion Guccio. This stallion, who has been slowly coming through the ranks behind Edwina's top Mount Cevo Itot du Chateau, certainly stepped up to the plate this evening with a tremendous double clear performance. William Funnell and Billy Congo came through directly afterwards to earn the second double clear of the evening. Home-bred and developed by William himself, Billy Congo has certainly performed very well over the last three Longines Global Champions Tour events, with a fourth place finish in London and a second place finish in Cannes. This stallion seems to be settling into a competitive pace for this year's exciting season.
All the action occurred at once, with Richard Spooner and Cristallo matching both William and Edwina's double clears as the fifteenth combination to compete in the second round. The remaining clear riders from the first round, such as Christina Liebherr, Juan Carlos Garcia and Lauren Hough, would be disappointed with faults including a surprising 12 faults for Lauren Hough and Ohlala.
Like that, the second round was over and complete and the surrounding spectators and VIP guests would wait in anticipation for the course to be set for a three horse-and-rider jump-off between Great Britain, Australia and the United States of America.
Edwina Tops-Alexander was first to go in the jump-off. The two-time season winner would have to set a time to beat for the remaining two riders to follow. However, her hopes of victory would be ruined when Guccio refused the green-coloured vertical towards the end of the course. A surprising refusal from the black stallion would mean a 4 fault score for the leading Australian as well as three additional time faults.
William Funnell was next in the ring for Great Britain and there was no doubt that the British-born jockey intended on taking the Monaco title after a second place finish in Cannes. But alas a rail at the same fence where Edwina's Guccio refused to jump the first time round meant that a four fault score would stand for the British combination.
Last but certainly not least, was the long-time combination of Richard Spooner and Cristallo. The 15 year old gelding, who won back-to-back here in Monaco in 2008 and 2009, looked agile and confident as they jumped the first fence. All this combination would require to win was a clear score, free of jumping faults or time faults. Therefore, it was clear what Richard's game-plan was; to jump efficiently but cautiously in order to ensure a clear score.
This is exactly what Richard was able to do, displaying that this evening's Grand Prix title would require age, experience and agility from one's mount. Despite being nearly six-seconds slower then William Funnel and Billy Congo, Richard ensured his third victory in Monaco with a calm and collected performance. Crossing the finish line with a time of 40.39 seconds, Richard cantered casually past the VIP, dawning a tremendous smile as he waved to friends and fans for he would soon be crowned the winner of the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Monaco.
Richard Spooner – Winner:
I did not feel more pressure than at any other Grand Prix, but there is always a lot of pressure associated with any Global Tour competition. It is a small arena here in Monaco but for some reason it seems to suit me. For the rest of the season I will keep doing the Global Tour for as long as they will have me.
William Funnell - Second Place:
It is wonderful to be here, to be involved in the Global Tour. I have had a great run and it has been a great opportunity to jump against the top horses and top riders. The crowds were big here and it was a bonus for me tonight.
Edwina Tops-Alexander - Third Place:
On Guccio: I decided he has to step up. It was his first Global Tour Grand Prix. I changed bit and a few things and it seems to have worked very well. In the jump off I didn’t feel very fast and tried to make a bit more time, but he didn’t see the fence. But I am happy to be in this position. When there are only three in the ring you have to try to do the best you can. They are both very fast riders. Richard was in a great position and his horse is extremely fast. It has been an incredible show and I want to thank my sponsors very much.
On the ranking: Obviously I want to try to win it again.
Jan Tops - President Longines Global Champions Tour:
Yes the series is very exciting. You have 10 riders that can win and that is what we want to build tension until the last moments. The points are really close and anything can happen.
Building the excitement is what it is all about. Everybody loves to be here. It is a beautiful place and people know we are coming and they are rooting for the riders and I am very proud.
Charles Villoz, Vice President of Sales, Longines:
Longines is very proud to be with GCT. I would like to thank Jan Tops for his great, great organisation. Monte-Carlo is a very special event and what would we do without the riders, they did very well. We had 60 guests from all over the world and they were thrilled.
Photo © Stefano Grasso/Longines Global Champions Tour