Riyadh, Saudi Arabia – October 28, 2023 – In an entry destined for the history books, the unstoppable Harrie Smolders has claimed the esteemed title of the 2023 Longines Global Champions Tour Champion of Champions, marking a moment that will endure through the ages. Securing this title for the second time, Smolders has soared into the realm of stardom.
Leaving it right until the last Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of the season, the title battle came down to the wire between Maikel van der Vleuten (NED), Harrie Smolders (NED) and Henrik von Eckermann (NED) in the Saudi Arabian capital, Riyadh.
Following his victory, Harrie Smolders explained to GCTV: “The level of this series is definitely the highest in our sport. To then be crowned as the overall, means you have good management, good horsemanship, great horses, but also the total package. The family behind you, the support, sponsors, for me especially Team Evergate, Copernicus Stables, and Family Spronken that believe in you. All this commitment together, with all the dedication from all my team, my people, and my grooms – this is a big milestone for all of us.”
He went on to add: “It’s already hard to win one Grand Prix, it doesn’t matter which 5* Grand Prix in the world. But to deliver the consistency to go clear again and again, the level of performance on the Longines Global Champions Tour… like we saw in today’s class, it’s so high. The horses, they jump outstanding. The riders, they ride amazing.”
Boasting a combined prize pool of over €1.4 million for the Championship and LGCT Grand Prix of Riyadh, top-tier horse and rider duos from across the globe assembled in full force, delivering a spectacular showcase of world-class show jumping to a packed audience.
Jan Tops smiled during the press conference saying: “How exciting was today! The class, the sport – every rider that went it just got better and better. Not only this leg, the whole season we saw how exciting it is. We see new areas like here in Riyadh, seeing the development of new riders. With 140 different riders competing on the Longines Global Champions Tour at this level, compared to 16 years ago when we started, it’s amazing and is something the sport can be proud of.”
During an awe-inspiring exhibition of elite sports and entertainment, the climactic Finals of the 2023 Longines Global Champions Tour season returned to Riyadh for the second consecutive year. Framed by unparalleled vistas of the King Abdullah Financial District, the culmination of the 15-event Championship unfolded under the evening lights and electric atmosphere.
There was drama from start to finish in the final LGCT Grand Prix of the season. When Harrie Smolders (NED) and Uricas v/d Kattevennen had two down in the first round he had to sit nervously for the remainder of the class to find out where Maikel van der Vleuten and Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) would finish.
An early rail in round 1 from Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) and King Edward wiped them out of contention for the win so it was all down to Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) in the jump-off. Van der Vleuten had to finish first or second to secure the Championship Title, so the pressure was on Beauville N.O.P. As Maikel entered the arena to an eruption from the crowd, Harrie Smolders watched on from the edge of his seat in VIP.
Opting for a safe clear round Maikel took a risky strategy which didn’t pay off as a fence came tumbling down, he also finished in a slow time, handing the 2023 Longines Global Champions Tour Title to an emotional Smolders as a year’s worth of work came to a close.
Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) gave it his all tonight, within touching distance of the title he said: “I must say I am very pleased with my second place. In general, I had a fantastic season. The first half we had some very good results with podium places – and then in the second half of the season I have four LGCT Grand Prix with just one down which is where I lost some points. In the end it was enough for second place, and all my congratulations go to Harrie Smolders because he is one of the best, if not the best and he deserved the win.”
A clearly gutted Henrik von Eckermann spoke to Rosie Tapner and GCTV moments after the news broke that he had secured Championship third place, just 0.5 of a point behind Maikel van der Vleuten. He said: “I was hoping for more. All my horses have just been fantastic all season, and also today – it’s just the position of course, it went our way in that Harrie had two down, so the possibility was there and then when you don’t grab it, it’s just awful.”
2023 Longines Global Champions Tour Final Overall Season Standings
- Harrie Smolders (NED) – 252 points
- Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) – 246 points
- Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) – 245.5 points
- Christian Kukuk (GER) – 241 points
- Simon Delestre (FRA) – 237 points
His Highness, Prince Abdullah Bin Fahad Bin Abdullah, President of the Saudi Arabian Equestrian Federation, and Jan Tops, President and Founder of the Longines Global Champions Tour were joined by Patrick Aoun, Longines Regional brand manager Middle East / South East Asia, as they presented the awards to today’s top three.
Paulina von Bornsdorff, Alin Seidler, and Louise Barrraud, the grooms of the Championship podium, joined their riders on the podium also collecting a trophy for all their efforts in this season’s results.
Christian Kukuk (GER) just missed out on a podium position in the 2023 season Championship race after his win in today’s LGCT Grand Prix of Riyadh onboard Checker following the success of his teammates from Riesenbeck International in yesterday’s GCL team Championship. Kukuk also collected the final Golden Ticket to the LGCT Super Grand Prix at the GC Prague Playoffs as he commented: “I can only smile, I am very, very emotional, I came here with the goal to win the ticket for the LGCT Super Grand Prix. To bring it home and cross the finish line to win is just amazing.”
For the second year running Malin Bayard Johnsson (SWE) and H&M Indiana gave everyone a run for their money securing second place just behind Kukuk by 0.16 seconds. Simon Delestre (FRA) took home third place and catapulted himself up the Championship overall standings to fifth.
As the heroic conclusion of the 2023 Longines Global Champions Tour season Championship race comes to a close, attention now shifts to GC Prague Playoffs. This city sets the stage for the year’s ultimate final showdown, where each victor from each of the 15 legs returns to compete in the €1.25 million Longines Global Champions Tour Super Grand Prix.
Final Results – €515,800 Longines Global Champions Tour of Riyadh CSI 5*
1) Christian Kukuk (GER) & Checker 47 – 0 / 0 – 37.56
2) Malin Baryard Johnsson (SWE) & H&M Indiana – 0 / 0 – 37.72
3) Simon Delestre (FRA) & Dexter Fontenis Z – 0 / 0 – 38.31
Source: Press Release from LGCT – Longines Global Champions Tour
Photos: © LGCT – Jorge Cunha