The GC Prague Playoffs kicked off in spectacular style with the GCL Super Cup presented by Air Bank Quarter Finals. With 8 teams vying for a place in the next round, tomorrow’s Semi Final, competition was fierce and a full house got behind an elite line-up of horse and rider combinations.
It was an evening full of high drama as eight teams survived the dramatic knockout competition to take their place in tomorrow’s semi-final as Cannes Stars, Scandinavian Vikings, New York Empire and London Knights week was cut short.
Olivier Philippaerts described the Quarter Final as: "Full of surprises, and in the end the strong teams proved just how strong you need to be. were just strong again."
It was Paris Panthers that took top spot today as the only team to finish on 4 faults. Ben Maher told GCTV: "I think the team deserve a good result this week. I think it makes a difference this week and plays to our advantage with the format of 3 riders instead of 2."
In a dazzling Opening Ceremony, all the contenders for the GCL Super Cup entered the arena to a glittering light display, powerful music and an electric atmosphere and set the scene for a phenomenal four days of top sport and entertainment.
Uliano Vezzani’s course was an intense first test for the GCL Super Cup as faults were made all over causing plenty of drama. Every stride and turn was being scrutinised by riders, team owners, managers, trainers, grooms and fans as the ultimate battle commenced.
Jumping in reverse order of their season standings, class pathfinders the Istanbul Sultans entered the arena under the watchful eye of team owner and Turkish competitor Effe Siyahi, an impressive clear from Gerrit Neerburg, an unfortunate two rails from U25 young-gun Sanne Thissen, coupled with a single rail for Omer Karaevli resulted in 12 faults on the board and proved the course was going to test all.
Next into the arena saw the Scandinavian Vikings – as first rider to go, Evelina Tovek collected 16 faults, Geir Gulliksen added to the team’s total with two rails falling, leaving reigning world champion, Henrik von Eckermann aboard his Hollywood V to post the second clear round of the class and knocking their chances.
But the drama came when third team to took to the arena, the Cannes Stars consisting of Johnny Pals, Jens Backmann and Sameh El Dahan. In a shocking turn of events, Backmann started his round prior to the bell ringing resulting in elimination taking them out of the race to the GCL Super Cup Semi-Final powered by Air Bank.
Sameh El Dahan explained: "The Playoffs is the last show of the year, the whole team was very excited to come here and disappointing for sure not to jump. I feel also for Jens, we were all really excited for this show. So for this to happen to him I think was a bit heartbreaking and a bit unfair. But that is sport and you have to live with the disappointment, and it has been a little bit the story with the Cannes Stars this year, a little bit up and down, two podium finishes, but still a lot of downs and a lot of ups. We were hoping to finish on a high but its not meant to be and what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger really.
It’s sport and this is what I love about this sport, it’s very exciting, there are a lot of ups and downs, there’s never guarantees and you can see that everybody has their horses well prepared and in as best form as they can and a small thing like this happens and all your dreams are shattered. So it is a bit like this and that is what I love about this sport – there are a lot of emotions and a lot of excitement, and we just have to live with the bad days as well as the good days. For myself I have a few good days to fall back on and keep motivated for the future."
An unlucky four faults for Bertram Allen aboard Pacino Amiro for the Miami Celtics, coupled with his fellow team mates, Michael G Duffy and Edouard Schmitz both also collecting a single rail, resulted in the team being the second to finish on 12 faults.
Two teams in the St Tropez Pirates and Hamburg Giants followed in quick succession, both accumulating twelve penalties, taking the total teams finishing on equal faults to four.
Winners of the first every GCL Super Cup Madrid In Motion’s U25 rider Jack Whitaker posted an impressive clear round with Q Paravatti N, followed by Angelica Augustsson Zanotelli leaving a clear slate for their last rider in Eduardo Alvarez Aznar. An unfortunate two rails with Bentley de Sury put them into the lead for now and secured their place in the Semi-Finals.
Maikel van der Vleuten smiled: "We had a super start with two clear rounds from Jack and Angelica – Jack had a super clear round and also Angelica. We can look forward to tomorrow. The season so far was so-so but we know we have the right riders and the right horses to perform well in Prague, and that is where we are going for. We try to make our right plan, and try to focus on what we are doing."
Valkenswaard United had one of the strongest teams on paper. They scraped their way through to the semi-final as the 5th team to finish on 12 faults from Marcus Ehning, Andre Thieme and legend John Whitaker delivering a clear with Equine America Unik du Francport.
Last to go Paris Panthers showed their class with Gregory Wathelet on Nevados S and Harrie Smolders on Monaco producing the clears and leaving miles of room for Ben Maher and Faltic HB.
Sadly, those leaving the tournament at this stage were New York Empire, who had been sitting on the edge in nail-biting agony and finally faced the disappointment of missing out as the slowest team on 16 faults, along with Scandinavian Vikings, London Knights and Cannes Stars.
The season’s top four teams from the GCL championship, Berlin Eagles, Stockholm Hearts, Prague Lions and Shanghai Swans are back in the mix for tomorrow’s semi-final and with each of the 12 teams starting back on a zero score and the opportunity for horse and rider substitutions ahead of the penultimate decider, tactics, strategy and clear focus will be in order as teams battle for a place in Sunday’s Final.