It was a night of unprecedented high drama as six teams faced down extraordinary pressure in the cliffhanger GCL Semi-Finals to secure their place in Sunday’s showdown at the O2 Arena in Prague.
The captivating GCL Semi-Final produced a rollercoaster of twists and turns that had the audience holding their breath in the grandstands around the O2 arena in Prague at the GC Playoffs.
The evening kicked off as the O2 Arena was lit up as flaming torches and special effects accompanied the Walk of Champions as GCL team riders waved to the crowds. Tension was high as the first team entered the ring with pressure showing on the faces of even the most experienced riders in the world today.
There was no let-up throughout the nerve-racking GCL Super Cup Semi-Finals which saw Shanghai Swans, Valkenswaard United, London Knights, Berlin Eagles, Paris Panthers and Madrid In Motion set the starting grid for the €3.5 million GCL Super Cup Final.
With just three faults separating the 6 qualified teams Shanghai Swans and Valkenswaard United both finished on 17 faults. The Knights and Eagles came home with 18 faults and the Panthers and Madrid In Motion on 19 and 20 faults respectively. The adrenaline was running high all night with the passionate crowd holding their breath as the 12 teams in the semi-final went into battle with only six able to qualify.
The 2018 GCL Super Cup Champions, Madrid In Motion, came close to dropping out but managed to finish 6th and survive to the Final. While there was bitter disappointment for Doha Falcons, Hamburg Giants and Miami Celtics as the ruthless format took its toll.
With huge prize money at stake, it was a night where the slightest error from riders and horses around the difficult course set by Uliano Vezzani in the indoor sand arena was critical.
It was a shock exit for New York Empire as they could not compete in the Semi-Final so withdrew and immediately took 12th place.
There was heartache for the home team and first to go Prague Lions as for the second year they missed out on a spot in the final by just one place. The team made a tactical change bringing Sergio Alvarez Moya off the bench with fresh horsepower of Alamo. But it didn’t pay off and the team finished with 26 faults.
Christian Kukuk came forward first with Mumbai but an unusual 13 faults put the Berlin Eagles on the back foot forcing the pressure on Beerbaum and Weishaupt. Riding the quirky mare Mila Beerbaum added 5 faults to the team total after the mare spooked at the Czech Flay plank while Philip Weishaupt once again delivered the goods with a super clear round on Coby securing their place in the final.
In one of the most dramatic show jumping competitions, Madrid in Motion pulled out all the stops with Maikel van der Vleuten producing the first clear round with Beauville Z. Mark McAuley and Jasco vd Bisschop kept Madrid In Motion on track to cement their way at the top of the leaderboard with just one single time fault to add. Then with all the space in the world, Marlon Zanotelli was a fraction long to the first fence and Like a Diamond van het Schaeck slammed the brakes on. It all started to fall apart and they finished with a costly 19 faults, dropping the team behind Berlin Eagles and handing them a ticket to the Final.
It was a nervous wait for Madrid In Motion to see if they had done enough, Micheal G Duffy explained: “I don’t know what to think. Maikel and Marc had two fantastic rounds, it is such big course and high level this format just proves everyone needs to be good. We will have to talk as a team and see what happened but I have full faith in the team.”
St Tropez Pirates who never made it into the Final before were on a total of 9 faults after Oliver Robert and Micheal Pender stopped the clock. But an uncharacteristic 20 faults from former world number Daniel Deusser brought their total up to 29 faults and handed Madrid In Motion a spot in the Final.
The London Knights flew in top spot with a team total of 18 faults after solid but unlucky rounds from Nicola and Oliver Philippaerts and Emily Moffitt.
Previous LGCT Champions Ludo Philippaerts spoke to GCTV and said: “It is a very big track and the horses don’t get much time in between fences. It was a hard job but we made it for Sunday.”
First to go for the team Olivier Philippaerts said: “Today was a very tough track, we are really looking forward to the final and I think we can win - we have always been a strong team.”
Team owner and rider Emily Moffit riding Winning Good explained: “I am so excited to call my dad and let him know we made it through to the Final. Both rails were my fault, Winning Good tries his heart out. All our horses jumped great, we can definitely win it on Sunday."
Paris Panthers picked up their ticket to Sunday’s showdown after Harrie Smolders riding Monaco and Gregory Wathelet on Nevados S came home with 5 faults each and 9 faults to add from Darragh Kenny and Idalville d’Esprit slide them just ahead of Madrid In Motion in 5th place.
Reigning GCL Super Cup Champions Shanghai Swans fielded a host of horse and rider talent but they also couldn’t produce the elusive clear rounds. Christian Ahlmann and Dominator 2000 Z were caught out by the time allowed and a rail fell while Malin Baryard-Johnsson and H&M Indiana also had one down. 8 faults from Max Kuhner and Elektric Blue P brought the team home on 17 faults but into first place and pole position for The Final.
Malin smiled: “We are in the great position for Sunday, we have three good horses and riders and we for sure have a chance, we are strong for sure.”
Final team to go Valkenswaard United, winners of the 2021 GCL Championship, played Marcus Ehning up front with Startgold. Spectators held their breath as they rocketed around the track, putting in a 12 fault round and risking the team’s chances. Silence fell as Edwina Tops-Alexander and the experienced Fellow Castlefield powered to the last with just 4 faults on the board.
The atmosphere could be cut with a knife as Peder Fredricson and Catch Me Not S needed to finish with 9 faults or less. This heaped pressure on but they crossed the line with 0 to add putting the team into second place.
Tops-Alexander told GCTV: “So many things were happening today, unexpected things, it is a fight to the end we are in a great position. If it was too easy it would be quite boring, I think everyone will be happy they finished this round today, you have to be shape.”
Peder Fredricson then added: "It was very close, it was very technical, big fences and a lot of pressure. This is very exciting, it is what we have been looking forward to all year and I have great teammates.”
Tomorrow’s Longines Global Champions Tour Super Grand Prix and Sunday’s GCL Super Cup Final are set to play out in front of full grandstands. You can watch live on GC TV with expert commentary and analysis, innovative new graphics and featuring rider interviews throughout the coverage.