The new Global Champions League got underway at the weekend, at the stunning venue of Miami Beach in Florida.
The new team series was first announced back in 2014, but the launch was delayed after lengthy legal wranglings with the FEI.
The competition finally got underway at the Miami Beach leg of the Global Champions Tour – with John Whitaker and Bertram Allen pairing up to win.
“I know how hard Jan [Tops] and everybody else has worked to get us to this point and to have the first event under our belt is a great moment,” said Frank McCourt, co-founder Global Champions League. “We’ll look back at this moment as the start of something very special.”
Twelve teams took part in the class, with each named after a city on the championship circuit. The competition was based on two rounds, for which both penalties and time counted towards the final result.
Teams have up to five riders, with at least one rider being under 25 years old – and two from these five will be selected to compete at each event on the circuit.
They may be nearly 40 years apart in age, but John and Bertram made a formidable pairing as team ‘Valkenswaard United’.
John jumped double clear with the 12-year-old gelding Lord of Arabia, while Bertram and Quiet Easy 4 had an unlucky fence down in the second round. But their combined time was 113.15sec, which proved impossible to beat.
“It’s great, and to be with John is fantastic. It’s an honour to be on the team with him and it was nice for us to get a win today so I’m delighted,” said Bertram.
Antwerp Diamonds (Harrie Smolders and Audrey Coulter) finished in second, with a combined time of 118.59sec.
The team league continues throughout the season, with Valkenswaard United leading the rankings going into the next leg.
In the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Miami Beach, Australia’s Edwina Tops-Alexander – the wife of GCT founder Jan Tops – won with the 13-year-old bay mare Lintea Tequila.
They produced a superbly quick jump-off round to finish a second faster than second placed McLain Ward and HH Azur.
“I was in a good position being last to go and I had the chance to watch everyone – that’s always an advantage – and I just went as fast as I could,” said Edwina.