By Sports Reporter/Doha
Bassem Hassan Mohamed will look to repeat his last year’s heroics, while Sheikh Ali bin Khalid al-Thani will be eyeing his first win as the Global Champions Tour (GCT) returns to Al Shaqab from tomorrow.
This is sixth time the state-of-the-art Al Shaqab arena will be hosting the finals of the GCT series. Top riders and horses will line up for three days of action with spectators sure to be treated to showjumping of high quality.
All eyes will be on home heroes Bassem and Sheikh Ali as they compete with world class riders to win prize money worth €1,700,000. Bassem had made history last year by becoming the first home rider to clinch GCT Grand Prix title here. While Bassem will be aiming for an encore, Sheikh Ali would be keen to win for the first time.
On the eve of the championship, Sheikh Ali said Bassem’s win last year showed how Qatari riders had benefited from hosting GCT over the years.
“I have always been honoured to represent my country in this exciting and strong competition, where the elite riders will participate. Ten years ago we dreamt of hosting one round of GCT and now we have hosted the event for six years. The championship, horses and riders involved have given a huge boost to equestrian sport in Qatar, and it showed when Bassem won here last year,” Sheikh Ali said.
“The level of jumping in the championship is very high and helps in the performance of the Qatari riders. Without a doubt, bringing the best riders in the world to participate in the biggest competition will attract and inspire young people in Qatar to take up the sport,” he added.
Sheikh Ali himself has benefited immensely while competing with top riders in Doha and around the world. He finished a creditable sixth at the 2016 Rio Olympics and earlier this year won silver at the Asian Games in Jakarta. “I have had great past one year. I had a good result in London and also in the Asiad. I hope we do well here in Al Shaqab this weekend. The GCT is the number one league in the world for equestrian and we are proud that the championship is being held in Qatar,” he said.
Great Britain’s Ben Maher has already wrapped up this year’s GCT title, but there is intense battle for second position with seven riders in contention to finish runner-up. Just 28 points separate second place rider Italy’s Alberto Zorzi (237 points) and Germany’s Christian Ahlmann (209 points) in eighth – and with 40 points for a win there is everything to play for.
Third in the rankings is 2017 overall champion Harrie Smolders (NED), just three points away from Alberto on a score of 234, and fourth is Daniel Deusser (GER) just a further point away on 233 overall. Scott Brash (GBR) holds fifth with a tally of 225, two time LGCT Grand Prix winner Nicola Philippaerts (BEL) sits in sixth with 219 and two time LGCT title holder Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) is on 212 overall.
Doha will also provide the last chance for individual riders to qualify for the GCT Super Grand Prix at the GC Playoffs in Prague this December, with all eyes on who will take the final golden ticket to the 16-rider showdown.
Meanwhile, Ali al-Rumaihi, the event director, revealed that like last year the third leg of the Hathab National Equestrian series will also be held simultaneously with GCT.
“As was had done last year, we have also incorporated Hathab as part of GCT. Hathab is an initiative of HE Sheikh Joaan bin Hamad al-Thani, president of the Qatar Olympic Committee. It is aimed at improving the standard of horse riding among Qatari youths and to grow awareness of horsemanship as part of Qatar’s history and tradition,” he said.
“Events such as the Global Champions Tour go a long way towards fulfilling Al Shaqab’s vision of being a global and leading global centre for equine excellence and providing an engaging experience for the community. It helps to promote horsemanship, inculcate passion as well as promoting Qatar’s equestrian heritage,” al-Rumaihi added.
Besides top class competition, there are plenty of things to look forward to for spectators including pony rides, jumping castles, a variety of kids’ activities, outdoor cafes and other F&B outlets. In addition, the organisers have also set up a flea market providing local entrepreneurs an opportunity to showcase and promote their products. beIN Sports will telecast the three-day championship.
Jan Tops, the founder and president of the GCT, said: “Al Shaqab is a special place and we love to be here in Qatar. The facility is just top class and so is the organisation. The riders too love come to Qatar as they know they only get best of the facilities here.”
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