Stockholm Hearts take Championship lead winning stage 7, GCL Cannes

Malin Baryard-Johnsson with H&M Indiana and Nicola Philippaerts on Katanga v/h Dingeshof took the iconic red Championship leaders armband off the home team Cannes Stars powered by Iron Dames by just a single point.

The GCL Cannes presented by Volvo Cavallari was a blockbuster, with drama right down to the final fence as Stockholm Hearts powered by H&M We Love Horses, rose to the win.

In pole position after round one it was a repeat from last week in St Tropez, Riesenbeck International powered by Kingsland, where they couldn’t convert it to a win with Christian Kukuk on Mumbai and Philipp Schulze Topphoff riding Carla NRW to settle for second place. Kicking off their Championship campaign, Madrid In Motion’s team of Mark McAuley onboard GRS Lady Amaro and Maikel van der Vleuten and Elwikke secured yet another podium for third place.

Having lost the overall GCL season Championship to Riesenbeck International in 2022, Stockholm Hearts know what the long game of the GCL championship is about. Stalwart of the team in red, Malin Bayard-Johnsson spIoke to Marc Lewis of GCTV and said, “It’s a really special venue, it always makes it more special to be here in the night and it’s a great atmosphere, and winning just always great. With the GCL, you get to experience year to year in this championship, like we say we take it show by show – we have been very consistent so far this year, and we are just simply going to have to stay consistent because that’s what it’s about in the end.”  

As no strangers to the top step of the GCL podium, having taken the win in the GCL of Cannes in 2023, Riesenbeck International were clearly chasing the win. An unfortunate 8 faults from Schulze Topphoff and Carla NRW left the team settling for second. Speaking of this year’s success, Christian Kukuk told Rosie Tapner of GCTV, “I understand that Philipp is disappointed, I would feel absolutely the same in his position, but honestly we should be more happy about the second place today – the last time when we were after the lead after round 1, we ended up fourth. So, this result we should see it positive and not be disappointed tonight.”

He went on to add, “To jump under the lights is always a special feeling. This ring has a special size – it nearly has the same length on all four sides. It is super different from all the other venues we have, and under floodlights this always makes it a bit different – it makes it a bit more exciting in general”.

But with the Championship clearly in the mind of the German maestro, Christian closed with a grin and simple statement: “The overall is far away from done”.

A third-place finish for Madrid in Motion saw the team looking up again at the top step of the podium. With a second in the previous stage, Ramatuelle, St. Tropez, Mark McAuley discussed the added pressure of riding for other people in a traditionally individual sport. Speaking to GCTV he said, “There’s always pressure when you’re riding for the team – it’s a different feeling than when you’re riding as an individual, you always feel a little more pressure. You want to do well for the team and you don’t want to let people down. Though normally in this sport pressure is a help – it makes you try harder, it’s only a good thing”.

As for the Championship? Madrid in Motion have one aim..Maikel said: “It’s always good to be as high as possible… we try to do show by show, and try to every time get the right riders with their horses at every event, try to perform well, and the overall will follow.”

The drama meant there was a major shuffle in the overall rankings, as teams continue to fight to stay in the top four, and fast track their way through to the GCL Super Cup Semi-Final at the GC Riyadh Playoffs. Taking the lead for the first time this year, Stockholm Hearts powered by H&M We Love Horses sit on 137 points while long time Championship leaders Cannes Stars powered by Iron Dames slipped into second on 136 points. Madrid In Motion stay in third on 123 points while last year’s Champions catapulted up the rankings to fourth place on 122 points.

The iconic city of Cannes, known for its glamour and allure, was the perfect backdrop for this high-stakes competition, where the atmosphere was nothing short of electric. The world's top teams converged to compete at the highest level, transforming the picturesque setting into an arena of unparalleled sport and entertainment.

Interestingly all the teams made horse or rider changes apart from the Doha Falcons opting to stay with their power pair of Michael Pender with HHS Calais and Julien Anquetin on Blood Diamond du Pont. Riesenbeck International powered by Kingsland were the only team to come out of round 1 on a clean sheet, but with four teams on just four faults and three teams with only two rails down, anything was to play for.
The synergy among the team riders and managers was evident as they communicated seamlessly, adjusting their strategies in real-time to tackle the challenges presented by the course. This cohesion not only highlighted their individual talents but also underscored the power of teamwork in achieving sporting greatness.
There was disappointment for the Rome Gladiators powered by ClipMyHorse.TV and Prague Lions powered by Czech Equestrian team, with both teams dropping down the order after uncharacteristically big scores.
The poles kept falling, widening the gap for the last few teams to give it a go. It was a gut wrenching second to last fence down for Madrid In Motion’s Maikel van der Vleuten and Elwikke, but they were still in the race as Irishman Mark McAuley and GRS Lady Amaro came home clear and fast leaving the squad on 8 faults in 152.18 seconds.
Riding on home turf the whole support crew was out for current Championship leaders Cannes Stars powered by Iron Dames. Fresh from their win in St Tropez last week they were aiming to extend their championship lead while competing in front of team owner Deborah Mayer. U25 rider Sophie Hinners was so close to a double clear on Iron Dames Singclair, however a cheap rail added 4 to their total. Team anchor Janne Friederike Meyer-Zimmermann riding Messi van 't Ruytershof produced the goods as the crowd erupted to their clear round, but the team was left waiting to see if they could make it onto the podium with 8 faults in 156.66 seconds.
The dream team Stockholm Hearts powered by H&M We Love Horses pulled out the big guns in round two making tactical horse and rider changes. Malin Baryard-Johnsson and H&M Indiana stepped up first to produce a lightning fast clear. Keeping calm under pressure Nicola Philippaerts rode a foot perfect round on Katanga v/h Dingeshof to stop the clock as the only team under 150 seconds. Therefore, the Hearts stayed on their single rail from round 1 and left the rest of the field chasing them down on time.
The thrilling atmosphere reached its peak during the final rounds, when Stockholm Hearts faced formidable competitors. However, their unwavering teamwork and strategic insights set them apart. By leveraging their combined strengths and maintaining an unbreakable rhythm, the team delivered.
Luck wasn’t on New York Empire powered by Lugano Diamonds’ side coming into round 2 on four faults they were brought up to 8 faults as the final fence fell for Denis Lynch and Cordial. Scott Brash also didn’t go as fast as he normally does with Hello Jefferson, but was clear to keep New York Empire as the slowest team on eight faults.
The final team to go, Riesenbeck International powered by Kingsland, had a fence in hand. Young talent Philipp Schulze Topphoff had an early fault on Carla NRW putting them on the same score as Stockholm Hearts so he immediately picked up the pace. But it was too risky and another fence fell handing the win to the Hearts. Christian Kukuk was fighting to keep the team in second so put the pedal to the metal on Mumbai finishing with a quick clear and just under a second faster than Madrid In Motion.
GCL now heads to the capital of France, Paris from 21 - 23 June where it will be a battle of the best at the mid-way stage of the season, and crucially the second to last event before the mid-season transfers.