Copyright: Ljuba Buzzola
Fireworks, ovations, superlatives, high-fives, tears … each of the 12.500 fans in Prague’s sold out O2 arena expressed in their own way the emotions that millions of television viewers across globe experienced when Philipp Weishaupt and Zineday rounded off a perfect season for Riesenbeck International powered by Kingsland Equestrian. Even the great Ludger Beerbaum welled up in the winner’s interview when asked about what he felt as the best ever season in GCL came to a close. Behind the scenes images showed Eoin McMahon letting go of all emotions with tears streaming down his face expressing pure luck and gratitude after he and Mila jumped a double clear in the €6,500,000 final.
Now that the dust has somewhat settled and a second glance at the results is had, it becomes clear how tight the battle between Riesenbeck International and Valkenswaard United was: 3.58 seconds, spread over 3 riders on each team.
Where were those seconds won and lost, how was the closest finish in GCL Super Cup history decided?
Playback back to Round 1 of the GCL Super Cup Final and the opening clear round of Marcus Ehning and Stargold putting on a truly masterful show. After a disappointing 12 penalties in the Quarter Final on Priam du Roset and a surprising 8 on Stargold in the Semi Final, Ehning set his team on the right track in what was his 5th consecutive final.
Gilles Thomas had a scare at fence one when Luna van het Dennehof reached up in the air and nearly didn’t make it across the Hästens oxer. Through the course built by none other than Uliano Vezanni, the super-talented Belgian got the mare going, but as he aimed for the finish line and the fans jumped up from their seats, the mare did catch the back rail and set the team on 4 penalties.
Third and last man for the team, John Whitaker, was kindly remembered of the exceptional double clear he and Equine America Unique de Francport had produced just 365 days ago to land Valkenswaard on the podium behind Miami Celtics in 2022’s GCL Super Cup Final. The living legend used all the time he had on the course and halfway through his round he was behind the pace that was needed to avoid penalties for exceeding the time allowed. But the give or take 60 years of experience the saddle worked as an internal clock and John Whitaker finished 1.25 seconds inside the time allowed.
United had completed the first round of the GCL Super Cup Final on just 4 penalties.
Riesenbeck International made their entrance in the first round of the final, straight after United’s exit. Aware of the standings and under pressure, Eoin McMahon rode Mila to a convincing clear as the mare made her 3rd(!) appearance in a GCL Super Cup Final after having been competed by Ludger Beerbaum in the ’21 and ’22 editions.
Checker scared the reigning champions when a rail went for the GCL season’s leading rider, Christian Kukuk. And so, with 4 penalties for both teams Philipp Weishaupt’s time in Round 1 would decide if Riesenbeck would stay in front or slide behind Valkenswaard United as all teams would head into Round 2. The 16 penalties from the Semi Final still fresh in the minds of the fans, Weishaupt shook off the bad memory. A sensational stretch from the best 9-year-old horse in the world at the ultimate oxer in the vertical-oxer-oxer triple combination and a total team time that would be just under 4 seconds faster than Valkenswaard, the champions had positioned themselves as last to go in the ultimate round.
Copyright: Ljuba Buzzola
In Round 2, Paris Panthers had taken the lead of the final on a completed score of 20 penalties after Gregory Whatelet had jumped the first double clear of the evening, however Harrie Smolders added 8 penalties and Ben Maher 4, to the result of the team managed by Rob Hoekstra. With just 2 teams to go, the runners-up from the championship season were now guaranteed of a place on the podium in 2023’s GCL Super Cup showdown. The scoreline on the other hand meant that they had given both Valkenswaard United and Riesenbeck International a 16 penalty or 4 rail safety net.
Marcus Ehning started strong once again delivering a 68.86 second clear round, followed by a 71.57 second clear round from Gilles Thomas. That very important clear ended the U25 career of the youngster as he now joins the category of senior riders and Valkenswaard United need to recruit a new U25 talent.
The entrance of 68-year-old John Whitaker got the anticipation going for the first triple clear of a team since London Knights made no mistakes in the 2nd round of the 2021 GCL Super Cup, which they ended up winning. A clear would also mean that Equine America Unique the Francport kept its 100% clear round rate over the finals of ’22 and ’23.
Again, the Brit started at a slower pace than his team mates and with the time trap set by Vezzani at 74 seconds, again it looked like Whitaker was jeopardizing the team’s result with a time penalty. And yet again, he slid just inside the time allowed finishing 0.43 seconds before the jury could penalize him for the lack of pace. But it was not the lack of pace that got the jury active, the rail on the other hand did and Valkenswaard United, though having taken the lead had also given the last team to go some slack, 1 fence.
Mila and McMahon did not crumble under the mounting pressure and delivered Riesenbeck’s first double clear ever in a final, but also the pair’s first double clear of the entire season. A big moment for the quiet Irishman and his elegant mare. When the rider of the season, Christian Kukuk again took one fence down, he put the team on the same score as Valkenswaard with Weishaupt coming in last. Throughout the season Weishaupt competed at 7 stages and 6 times he was the last man in the ring for the team, 6 times it landed the team on the podium with 3 victories in the count.
Copyright: Ljuba Buzzola
It Was All In The Time
Riding a horse that had jumped 7 clears out of 7 appearances in the regular season, Weishaupt did not have enough with just a clear. He needed a time of 73.69 seconds or Valkenswaard would win their first ever Super Cup.
But time had never been an issue for the naturally swift Zineday and the equally fast German. Furthermore, it was Whitaker who had posted the slowest round so far in an attempt to secure a steady clear. Riesenbeck hearts skipped a handful of beats when Zineday turned a touch strong after a technical sector in the approach to the skinny oxer. With a distance so deep that any average horse would have knocked the rail right out of the cups, Zineday miraculously kept his cool, cleared the oxer and set off on for impeccable finish. Across the line the pair took the team’s time 3.58 seconds under Valkenswaard’s, securing the first ever Super Cup win for Riesenbeck International powered by Kingsland Equestrian and lifting the spell that rested on every season’s champion since 2018.
Just 3.58 Seconds
3.58 seconds was the difference between gold and silver, 1st and 2nd place and between €2,500,000 that went to the winner and the ‘just’ €1,500,000 that the runner-up received. The average time of the 18 riders in the second round was 70.5 seconds, including the slower runs of team members of Prague Lions and Madrid in Motion who were no longer in contention for a podium and hence rode their courses with less pace. John Whitaker’s round was 3 seconds slower than the average pace. Of the riders on the podium in the ceremony only Gregory Wathelet had gone round faster than Marcus Ehning but Gilles Thomas too was 1 second slower than the average speed.
Valkenswaard United ended a very average season in an above average style though their 3rd second place finish will have somewhat of a bitter taste as it is just the first time that the victory is decided on time. It is the disadvantage of having to go 2nd last in Round 2, with your rivals to go after you. A disadvantage they picked up when also missing the pace in the 1st round. 3 times a bridesmaid, never a bride… the story continues.