Glittering finish for Diamonds in Doha
18 teams, 15 competitions, and one big winner in the 2017 Global Champions League. The Hamburg Diamonds captured this year’s CSI 5* Show Jumping title at the futuristic Al Shaqab equestrian centre in Doha. But as the squad’s battle-tested riders Eric Lamaze and Harrie Smolders took to the course at the Final in Qatar, nothing was certain until the dramatic Final was concluded.
The equestrian Global Champions League is a competition circuit bringing together elite riders from different countries at gorgeous venues around the world. It takes place in parallel with the Longines Global Champions Tour, whose prestigious Champion of Champions title Smolders had already captured at the penultimate stage in Rome, thus securing an unprecedented double-victory in the two series. In Doha for the Tour, it was Qatari rider Bassem Hassan Mohammed who was the hometown hero this year, winning the final stage with Gunder in front of his supporters.
Starting in Mexico City in April, the Tour and League made stops this year in Miami Beach, Shanghai, Madrid, Hamburg, Cannes, Monaco, Paris, Cascais, Estoril, Portugal, Chantilly, Berlin, London, Valkenswaard, Rome and Doha, whose Al Shaqab facility is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.
Heading into the final leg of the GCL championship, the Diamonds — Smolders from the Netherlands, Great Britain’s John Whitaker, Lamaze of Canada, Italian Piergiorgio Bucci and U25 rider Jos Verlooy of Belgium — were leading the race ahead of last year’s League champions Valkenswaard United. And indeed, it was Valkenswaard (Bertram Allen of Ireland, Italy’s Alberto Zorzi, Germany’s Marcus Ehning, Switzerland’s Janika Sprunger and U25 rider Sanne Thijssen of the Netherlands), which took first place in Doha after double clear rounds by Zorzi on Fair Light van’t Heike and Allen on Molly Malone.
But the Diamonds’ Smolders with Don VHP Z and Lamaze (Fine Lady 5) did what they had to do for the series victory. And in tough circumstances. After a first round of 9 faults by Lamaze left the team in a difficult struggle to hold onto its lead, the two experienced riders both produced clear rounds to grab fifth spot in the stage, and first place overall. As Smolders looked on with baited breath, Lamaze and his Fine Lady battled through to a clear round, with the Canadian doubled over in pain at the end of the effort. In fact, Lamaze had been riding in Doha with a rib injury, and it was obvious the Olympic gold medal rider was hurting.
Afterwards, Lamaze was feeling grateful in spite of the physical discomfort. “It was magical,” Lamaze said, reflecting on the 2017 Global Champions League season. “I knew I wanted to take this seriously and try to bring my best horses to every event.” Teammate Smolders was already looking toward the future: “I see a big growth in potential for the Champions League. We will definitely come back and we enjoy being a part of it – it makes our dreams come true.”