Before a buzzing VIP lounge and packed stands, the final CSI5* class of the Longines Global Champions Tour of Valkenswaard – the Prix VDL Groep – was won by one of the most popular riders on the Tour, Luciana Diniz (POR), with her golden mare Lady Lindenhof. Second went to the experienced combination of Marc Houtzager (NED) with Sterrehof’s Uppity and third to Emanuele Gaudiano (ITA) with Cocoshynsky.
The first round track build by renowned course designer Uliano Vezzani was a tough one which caused much discussion between the riders on the number of strides to take between various obstacles. GCT TV’s Stephen Hadley described it as ‘almost as tough as yesterday’s Grand Prix’. There were some very difficult combinations and awkward related distances which called for the utmost control, and ideally a horse with some top level experience.
Of the 47 starters, Vezzani predicted 10 clears and got nine. The double of VDL Groep uprights in the middle of the arena on a long seven strides from a wide oxer caused many faults. As did the tall bicycle fence on a committed five strides from a meaty double. A very generous time allowed meant that riders were able to take their time and negotiate the demanding course carefully, but many were caught out by is subtle technicality.
The jump-off course was a different matter and welcomed attack from those brave enough to try. Emanuele Gaudiano was first to go and set a great target of clear in 34.24s. Gaudiano’s time remained unbeaten until home rider Houtzager shaved just 0.05s off the time from the middle of the draw. With just two to follow her, Diniz threw caution to the wind and dared her little mare to run and jump, wiping nearly a second of the leader’s time.
As the sun set on the last day of the show, Luciana Diniz waved to the cheering crowds as she completed her laps of honour. The Portuguese No1 has been gaining momentum throughout the season and could well be in contention for a podium finish at round eleven of the Championship season in London in less than two weeks time. The next round of the season, hosted by Horse Guards Parade Ground, promises to be a nail-biting climax to an intense period of competition before the riders head to WEG. They will then rejoin the Tour in Lausanne and Vienna in September for the final dash to the finish line in Doha with all eyes on the lion’s share of the €1million bonus.