The Global Champions Tour title may have already been wrapped up by the Dutchman Harrie Smolders, but there are plenty of thrills and spills in store in the season finale at the Al Shaqab arena from today.
The three-day showjumping championship returns to Qatar for the final stop of the season, with riders set for a captivating battle for the overall ranking places after 13 rounds of action.
This year’s event will be particularly special for Al Shaqab, which is marking the 25th anniversary of the prestigious, cutting-edge equestrian facility. A vision of His Highness the Father Emir, Al Shaqab has become an epicentre for the sport in the region. To mark the occasion there will be a special celebration during the event tomorrow.
An all-star cast of 17 out of the world’s top 20 riders will be in action with their horses this weekend. Smolders, who made history by taking the title at the penultimate event in Rome, will lead the pack which consists of Scott Brash, Eric Lamaze, Lorenzo de Luca, Gregory Wathelet, Kevin Staut, Peder Fredricson, and Maikel van der Vleuten.
Home heroes Sheikh Ali bin Khalid al-Thani and Bassem Hassan Mohamed will be in action in the individual GCT competitions and riding for home team Doha Fursan Qatar in the Global Champions League.
Despite Smolders’ triumph, there is still everything to play for in Doha, as there are just 15 points between the next top five riders. Italy’s de Luca is currently in second place on 260 points just three ahead of Germany’s Christian Ahlmann. Italian Alberto Zorzi is two points away on 255 points, while Dutch rider van der Vleuten and two-time GCT champion Brash are on 247 and 245 points respectively.
GCT President Jan Tops said: “You see through the years, and especially this year, that the best riders in the world prepare their horses for these events. Now we are at the final of the season and the riders have their best horses here. The statistics speak for themselves.”
Tops was gushing in his praise of Al Shaqab, calling the venue a special one. “It is great to be here at this special place. Qatar works very hard to promote the heritage of the horse and on the development of the sport to a high level, which we have seen on an Olympic level. Al Shaqab is not only a magnificent place, but it is very horse-friendly; the footing is great, the stabling is the best condition – it’s an example for every event. That is why we love to be here in Qatar,” he added.
Speaking about the progress of the top Qatari riders like Sheikh Ali, who finished 6th in the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio, Tops said: “If I see the progress made from five years ago it has been incredible and I hope we can make some steps forward again for the next Olympics. And it is important to develop the next generation and give them experience and get them ready for the next four to eight years and more.”
Omar al-Mannai, the event director of Al Shaqab, said the successful hosting of GCT and many other top events over the years has made Qatar a sport hub. “As part of Qatar National Vision 2030 we believe Qatar has become a sport hub and GCT supports this by bringing the top riders and horses. We are engaging with the community with our activities and engaging them about our tradition and heritage,” he said.
Al-Mannai revealed there will be a special celebration to mark Al Shaqab’s 25th anniversary during the sidelines of the GCT, adding a bigger celebration will be held on Qatar’s National Day, which falls on December 18.
Meanwhile, the Global Champions League, the second season of the team event is intriguingly poised. The teams will be in action with round one to be held today and the final on Saturday afternoon. Hamburg Diamonds and Valkenswaard United will be going head to head for the overall championship title and five other teams are challenging for the other podium places. 18 teams have competed in the GCL this year tactically fielding top rider and horse combinations to get the edge ahead of their rivals in the championship.
Third Hathab leg at Al Shaqab this weekend
Meanwhile, the third leg of Hathab, Qatar’s QR1mn national equestrian series, will be held on the sidelines of the GCT and GCL events this weekend.
Six events are scheduled for the third of the 12-leg series, with competitions in five categories: Future Riders Program (6-12 years old), Junior (Small Tour 14-18 years old), Young Rider (Medium Tour 16-21 years old) and Senior (Big Tour- over 21-years-old).
Hathab is an initiative launched by Qatar Olympic Committee president HE Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad al-Thani.
10:45: National Class 1/1.15m Against the clock (QR10,000)
13:15: National Class 1.20/1.30m Against the clock (QR20,000)
15:00: CSI5* 1.45m Two Phase (€25,000)
17:30: CSI5* 1.50/1.55m Global Champions League Round 1 (€92,000 individual class winner)
13:45: National Class 1/1.15m Against the clock with jump-off (QR10,000)
16:45: National Class 1.30/1.40 Against the clock with jump-off (QR30,000)
17:45: Al Shaqab 25th Anniversary celebrations
18:40: CSI5* 1.45/1.50m (€92,000)
09:00: National Class 1.20/1.30m Two Phase (QR25,000)
11:30: National Class 1.30/1.40m Two Phase (QR35,000)
14:00: CSI5* 1.55/1.60m GCL Final (€160,000 to individual class winner + €200,000 to team winner)
18:00 CSI5* 1.60m Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Doha (€400,000)
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