John Whitaker and Gilles Thomas win GCL Madrid for Valkenswaard United by narrowest of margins

John Whitaker e Gilles Thomas

Valkeanswaard United – John Whitaker riding Equine America Unick Du Francport & Gilles Thomas with Ermitage Kalone – Mackenzie Clark (c)

Taking their first win since the GCL of Hamburg in 2022, Valkenswaard United stole the victory in GCL of Madrid presented by Marqués de Riscal out of the grasp of the home team Madrid in Motion, with the sound of breaking hearts echoing around the packed home crowd.

With none other than 68-year-old John Whitaker at the helm, young gun Gilles Thomas was riding alongside the living legend to bring home the win for the team leading from start to finish. A 42-year age difference separates the two teammates who entered the ring in both round one and two with one aim – crucial championship points. Thomas’ Ermitage Kalone and Whitakers Equine America Unick Du Francport were the chosen mounts for both rounds, being one of only two teams unchanged between the two rounds, ultimately leaving the arena with just 7 faults on the scoresheet.

The highly anticipated GCL of Madrid, presented by Marqués de Riscal, was a spectacular class from start to finish. Held at the prestigious Club de Campo Villa de Madrid on the opening day of the Longines Global Champions Tour of Madrid, the two GCL rounds featured an exciting and nail-biting team format that kept spectators on the edge of their seats as titans of the sport clashed in the grasp for championship points.

A thrilled Gilles Thomas, standing alongside legend of the sport and teammate John Whitaker, spoke to GCTV of how much the win means, he said: “I couldn’t be happier to win, but to win with John is something I will remember forever. Our team is made up of legends such as Marcus Ehning and Edwina Tops-Alexander, so it is a real privilege to be part of Valkenswaard United”.

John Whitaker smiled from ear to ear as he explained: “I’m really proud of Gilles today. He didn’t need any help from me, he rode class. This win means a lot for the team and really puts us back in the AChampionship race. I always enjoy the show here in Madrid – it is a fantastic grass arena. Our Team Manager Jan Tops joked to us saying ‘about time’ we were back on top of the podium and after my disappointment in Doha this means a lot to us.”

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John Whitaker riding Equine America Unick Du Francport & Gilles Thomas with Ermitage KaloneMackenzie Clark (c)

The crowd was electric as Spaniard and hometown hero Eduardo Alvarez Aznar entered the arena for Madrid in Motion aboard his 19-year-old Rokfeller de Pleville Bois Margot. With this event a true homecoming for Eduardo, Aznar said, “I am from Madrid and I grew up riding in this club.” Eduardo expertly navigated the course with his long-time partner Rokfeller on his home turf. The pair delivered a clear round for the home crowd in Madrid, securing the first podium of the season for Madrid in Motion.

Maikel said that both his and Eduardo’s horses felt great in both rounds. He went on to sing the praises of his teammate, saying that Eduardo “was great today, with two super, clear rounds.” When asked about how it felt to secure a podium finish in front of his home crowd, Eduardo remarked, “I am very happy to jump here in front of my people.”

With disappointment palpable amongst the Riesenbeck International powered by Kingsland camp, Christian Kukuk explained that while they had made the move up in the overall GCL championship standings, the team had hoped for more. He went on to explain that Riesenbeck International will be on the hunt for points in the coming stages as the GCL heads to the south of France. He explained, “I am excited for St Tropez and Cannes to come. I hope we can move up in the standings again at these shows.” He went on to say his hope is “that we go into our home show in Riesenbeck in the lead overall. That is what we are really looking for.”

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GCL Madrid 2024 – Gilles Thomas shakes hands with Christian Kukuk – Mackenzie Clark (c)

Although it wasn’t their day today, Cannes Stars powered by Iron Dames still lead the overall Championship standings on 87 points. In a situation that has to be seen to be believed, the 2024 GCL championship truly could be anyone’s game. The last two stages of the championship, Shanghai and Madrid, have completely reset the season, with now 10 of the 14 teams just 10 points of the lead.

Stage five has seen Stockholm Hearts powered by H&M We Love Horses move to just a single point off the lead on 86 points, while Valkenswaard United have jumped up eight places to third on 84 points, but, hot on their heels is the Prague Lions powered by Czech Equestrian Team on 83 points.

With Madrid and its expansive grass arena known for unpredictability and fierce rivalries, the competition was intense. It came down to the wire as the last three teams to compete in Round 2 ultimately claimed the podium positions.

Going into round two, the only teams on 0 faults had completely opposite tactics. Valkenswaard United duo of John Whitaker and Gilles Thomas decided to make no changes and stay on Equine America Unick du Francport and Ermitage Kalone to jump his first ever 1.60m. While Riesenbeck International decided to bring in fresh horsepower with Christian Kukuk changing to Checker 47 and Philipp Weishaupt opting for the big guns of Coby 8.

Mexico Amigos had a fall from grace after such a consistent and impressive start to the season. Sitting in fourth in the championship going into Madrid, the team finished with 32 faults and bottom of the order after Madrid’s undoing. A double clear from Stockholm Hearts powered by H&M We Love Horses in round 2 rescued them by bringing on heavyweight Nicola Philippaerts and Moya vd Bisschop, who delivered again to keep them on 16 faults from round 1.

Madrid in Motion was looking for a win in Round 2. The team finished Round 1 in fourth place, within striking distance of the leaders. Maikel van der Veluten went out first for the home team with Beauville Z N.O.F. Maikel acquired four faults on the usually ultra-consistent bay gelding, putting the pressure on his teammate.

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Maikel van der Vleuten and Eduardo Alvarez Aznar – Mackenzie Clark (c)

Using the traditional Riesenbeck International powered by Kingsland Equestrian strategy of playing it safe for a double clear Philipp Weisuapt on Coby 8 and Christian Kukuk on Checker 47 ran out of luck today. Going into Round 2 as the first team on zero faults, the powerhouse team was hopeful that they could secure the win aboard their fresh horses. Christian Kukuk rode first for the team with his 14-year-old gray gelding, Checker 47. The pair rode clear until the final rail, acquiring four faults on the last jump. The pressure was on for teammate Philipp Weishaupt riding Coby 8 who was on track for a clean run until they also fell victim to the final jump bringing the team total up to 8 faults but in a slow time to fall behind Madrid In Motion.

So Valkenswaard United entered the area with eight faults in hand. Cool as can be Gilles Thomas and the epic Ermitage Kalone played it safe for a steady round. It paid off as all the jumps stayed up but a single time fault was added to the score. Next up, the one and only John Whitaker kept everyone on the edge of their seats after an early rail fell. Another fence down and Madrid In Motion would win. But the tension didn’t stop there as approaching the final fence the time faults started clocking… finishing just 0.04 seconds within picking up a third time fault he came home with 2 time faults to add on a team total of 7 faults just clinching the win from the home team.

As the sun sets on the fifth stage of the 2024 season GCL now heads to the French Riviera of Ramatuelle, Saint-Tropez (June 30 may – 1 June 2024), where fans can look forward to seeing the world’s top competitors take center stage for the sixth leg of the Championship race in glamorous fashion.

Full results

GCL Standings 2024

GCL press release (c)

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