Copyright: Ljuba Buzzola
Guts and raw talent. It was a battle right up to the last fence as Miami Celtics held under immense pressure to be crowned the 2022 GCL Super Cup Champions. Taking the lions share of the €4.5million prize purse after an evening full of thrilling drama and elite sport coupled with a sell-out crowd at Prague’s O2 arena for the 2022 GC Prague Playoffs.
In the high adrenaline Final, young talent Miami Celtics team of Bertram Allen, Michael G Duffy and U25 rider Edouard Schmitz beat Valkenswaard United’s years of experience from Marcus Ehning, John Whitaker and Andre Thieme by being the faster team on 12 faults overall.
Owners, riders, trainers, team managers and grooms all praised the GCL Super Cup throughout the week of unparalleled sporting action. Commenting on his team’s victory, Edouard Schmitz explained: “You wish for days like this... every rider dreams of this.”
He then added: “It was like nothing I have experienced before in my show jumping career, there was a lot at stake, we put a lot of good rounds towards the super cup final. I was very relieved to bring it through the finish line and the crowd’s reaction was unbelievable.”
Founder and president of GCL Jan Tops: “It is fantastic to see, even when you haven’t had such a good season you can still recuperate one weekend and make it a fantastic year. That is really special in our sport. That is what is all about.”
Smiling Michael G Duffy said: “Amazing feeling, and to do it with the two guys we have a great team spirit between us, we all get on so well. The week has flown, and it has been great fun… to finish with a win is not something I think any of us expected. We really fought hard all week and like Bertram said, we have three amazing championship horses we certainly wouldn’t be sitting here without them.
The legend John Whitaker smiled: “The show is brilliant. The audience is brilliant. It is a fantastic atmosphere, that class was tense to the last minute, it was really good to be part of it.”
Taking third place for the Shanghai Swans, Max Kuhner, “We sat together and thought about the strategy for the team, because we also had 4 riders who were qualified for the super cup and we decided all together to bring the first choice horse for the team, because it is a very important competition. We put everything in to it.”
In a shock start to the GCL Super Cup Final, the Berlin Eagles left the arena with 24 penalties, after podium veteran Ludger Beerbaum aboard his impressive Mila collected an uncharacteristic 12 penalties, next saw Christian Kukuk with a single rail down, and finally team anchor adding 8 faults to the team’s score.
The crowd went wild as the home favourites, the Prague Lions, entered the arena. As first rider for the team Pieter Devos left the arena with a respectful single rail on the board. All eyes of the packed O2 arena were on home grown hero and crowd favourite Anna Kellnarova, who unfortunately found the Ulliano Vezzani course a challenge for day four of the GC Prague Playoffs, ultimately leaving the arena on 23 penalties. Team anchor, Niels Bruynseels added four faults to the Prague Lion’s scorecard, finishing with a team total of 31 penalties.
A mouth-watering line-up of top horse and rider power entered the arena as the third team to go in the Shanghai Swans. Champion duo Christian Ahlmann and Dominator Z showed their class by putting the first clear round on the board for the evening. Max Kuhner and Electric Blue quickly followed suit, bringing the team total of 0 forward to the all-important third rider. Leaving the arena with a single rail on the scoreboard, the Shanghai Swans finished their team rounds with a five-fence advantage in hand.
The fourth clear of the night came from Irish star Bertram Allen aboard Pacino Amiro kicked the Miami Celtics into action as the first rider out. Michael Duffy and Clicico perform their on-form best in replicating Allen’s clear, with all to play for Eduard Schmitz entering the arena as the third rider. An unlucky rail falling but a tight time from Schmitz aboard Gamin Van’t Naastveldhof left the Miami Celtics in the driving seat on equal penalties but quicker total time than the Shanghai Swans.
In a textbook clear round, U25 star Jack Whitaker with his equine partner Q Pavarrati N replicated their result from day 1 with a clean sheet on the board for the fifth team to go, Madrid in Motion. Angelica Augustsson Zanotelli and Kalinka van de Nachtegaele post an unfortunate 12 faults, which, coupled with Eduardo Alvarez Aznar and Bentley de Sury’s additional 12 faults left the team finishing with 24 faults against their name, with a slower time than the Berlin Eagles leaving them in fourth position with just one team to go.
Arguably one of the most experienced teams in the GCL Super Cup Final, Valkenswaard United, entered the arena under the watchful eye of fellow member Edwina Tops-Alexander. One rail fell for the master Marcus Ehning, followed by the same result for teammate Andre Thieme and DSP Chakaria leaving the team on eight faults with their final rider heading into the arena. The crowd fell silent as veteran rider John Whitaker and Equine America Unik du Francpoi entered the arena, producing an impressive clear round leaving the team sitting in third position, just four faults behind Miami Celtics and the Shanghai Swans sitting in first and second respectively heading into the second round.
As the lowest qualified team in Round 1, the second round of the GCL Super Cup Final was kicked off by the roar of the crowd as the Prague Lions entered the arena. Two rails fell for both Pieter Devos and Anna Kellnarova, with an additional four faults for Niels Bruynseels, leaving the crowd favourite’s with 51 faults on the scorecard, firmly putting them out of a chance of a podium position.
The Berlin Eagles were redeemed in Round 2, showing their true form with a clear from Beerbaum and Mila, quickly followed by a clear from Kukuk and Mumbai. Weishaput and Coby added just four faults to the score card for the team, with all to play for, for the final four teams to follow.
Madrid in Motion had faults added to their final total, after an unlucky 8 faults from Round 1 clear round rider, Jack Whitaker, a clear from Augusstson Zanotelli, and a single rail for Eduardo Alvarez Aznar leaving the team with 36 penalties and in second position, with the 3 best qualified teams to follow.
Valkenswaard United entered the arena to a roar from the crowd. One rail falling for Ehning, a clear from Theime and a masterclass of a clear round from John Whitaker, left Valkenswaard United sitting comfortably, their position on the podium was guaranteed. A thrilled Edwina Tops Alexander commented on her team’s result as Whitaker exited the arena: “We have the best riders who just try so hard – I can’t believe it!”
Enter: The Shanghai Swans. Tensions were high with one rail in hand to remain in the top two, the pressure was on. A clear form Ahlmann and Dominator Z had the crowd on their edge of their seats. 12 faults from Kuhner and the disappointment was palpable from those in the kiss-and-cry. Last to go for the Shanghai Swans, Fuchs aboard Electric Blue producing a classy clear for the team to finish on 16 penalties and slot straight into 2nd place with just one team to go.
In their fight for top of the podium, young guns the Miami Celtics had it all to play for with 8 faults in hand before it comes down to time. In a laser point perfect round, Allen jumps clear. Two rails from Michael G Duffy meant all room for error left the building. With pressure falling on the shoulders of 23-year-old Edouard Schmitz, he entered the arena with €1.5 million to play for. A clear round for Schmitz and the crowd went wild for the newly crowned 2022 GCL Super Cup champions, in the biggest upset of the season.
An incredible four days of electric sport, captivating entertainment and unmatched camaraderie draws to a close at the conclusion of the intense GCL Super Cup Final powered by Air Bank, as the curtain falls on the fourth edition of the GC Prague Playoffs. With preparations well underway for a unparalleled 2023 season all eyes now look ahead to a new year with the Longines Global Champions Tour planned to again bring phenomenal sport to the world’s most spectacular locations.
Copyright: Ljuba Buzzola