High Adrenaline GC Playoffs See Six Teams Head to Sunday’s GCL Super Cup Final
Photo: GCL / Stefano Grasso
It was a night of unprecedented high drama as six teams faced down extrodinary pressure in the cliffhanger GC Playoffs to win through to Sunday’s GCL Super Cup Final at the O2 Arena in Prague.
There was no let up throughout the nerve racking GCL Super Cup semi finals which ended with Madrid In Motion, Scandinavian Vikings, Paris Panthers, Valkenswaard United, London Knights and Montreal Diamonds winning their ticket to the €6.4 million final.
Madrid In Motion were the only team on the night to deliver clear rounds from all three riders with the Vikings and Panthers coming home with only 4 faults and United, Knights and Diamonds all on 8 faults.
The adrenaline was running high all night with the passionate crowd holding a collective breath as the 12 teams in the semi final teetered on the brink of agony or ecstasy with only six able to qualify.
The GCL Champions of the 2018 season, London Knights, came close to dropping out but managed to finish 5th and survive to the Final. London Knights Team Manager Ben Maher said: “We are in the final and that is all that counts.” There was bitter disappointment for Miami Celtics and Rome Gladiators as the ruthless new format took its toll.
Earlier in the evening 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 in the Opening Ceremony. 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.
With huge prize money at stake it was a night when fortunes would rise and fall on the slightest error as riders and horses faced the formidably difficult course set by Uliano Vezzani in the indoor sand arena.
A solid looking Longines wall early on in the course posed less problems than it did in the quarter-finals, despite its intimidating presence. A delicate Rolls Royce vertical tumbled at the lightest of touches and a Czech Equestrian Team plank caught out a few combinations.
It was indeed a firestarter of a first round with the phoenix-feathered Danielle Goldstein the pathfinder for the Montreal Diamonds, riding top chestnut mare Lizziemary. The pair flew around the track but there was drama at the final line as Lizziemary locked on to the wrong fence and stuttered to a stop just before taking the wrong course. While they finished clear, on review the judges gave four penalities. Danielle spoke about her scary moment: “I think Lizziemary thought it was a jump off! You never know if you’ve done enough.”
There was heartbreak for U25 rider Jos Verlooy and Igor as the final fence fell, with World Number 1 Harrie Smolders taking up the mantle for the team. With the cool headed Don V.H.P Z Harrie pulled a clear out of the bag, keeping the Diamonds on a score of four with the rest of the field yet to come.
There was disappointment for Monaco Aces, with a combined score of 24 from Simon Delestre, Jerome Guery and Julien Epaillard, knocking them right down the order and out of the running for the final.
Leopold van Asten and VDL Groep Miss Untouchable pulled a magnificent clear for the Scandinavian Vikings, speeding around the course in the fastest time so far. U25 rider Evelina Tovek clipped the wide white oxer set across the diagonal with Dalila de la Pomme, putting the pressure on the final rider Christian Alhmann. The German maestro kept ice cool, piloting Caribis Z to a strong clear keeping the team on a score of four.
After their impressive performance Vikings’ Team Manager Geir Gulliksen said: “I think this is good enough the way the three horses jumped and Christian Ahmlann is as cool as the iceman. I was nervous today, there is a lot of money at stake. It is important for owners and riders to keep going now.”
Berlin Eagles made the most strategic changes from the quarter-final to today’s round, with two horse changes. Eight faults for Christian Kukuk and Colestus meant the Eagles would be on the backfoot. Philipp Weishaupt delivered a brilliant clear to keep the team in the running. But disappointment would come for anchor Ludger Beerbaum as two early poles fell, putting the team on 16 overall.
Madrid in Motion fielded Marc Houtzager and the exuberant Sterrehof’s Calimero pulled out all the stops to jump clear, with the duo swiftly backed up by Maikel van der Vleuten and star stallion Verdi TN. Enormous pressure would fall on the shoulders of final team rider Eduardo Alvarez Aznar and experienced horse Rockfeller de Pleville Bois Margot were the epitome of grace under pressure, providing a remarkable triple clear and ensuring the team would earn a place in Sunday’s showdown.
Star striker Daniel Deusser paved the way for the Shanghai Swans, but the delicate GC vertical set away from the in-gate caught out Calisto Blue. With teammates Alexandra Thornton and Pedro Veniss watching on from the kiss and cry, second rider Pius Schwizer and Living the Dream took over the baton. But two poles would bump their score up to 12 with Shane Sweetnam the final rider to go. The Czech Equestrian Team plank fell and the Swans tumbled to 16 in total. After the Swans’ disappointing result and even before the competition ended, Daniel could not conceal his dismay and said: "If you want to be in top six it must be max 8. I don’t think we have a chance.”
Doha Fursan Qatar’s trio of Sheikh Ali Bin Khalid Al Thani, Michael Whitaker and Bassem Hassan Mohammad ran out of luck, after Michael had to retire following a burst blood vessel in his horse Strides Hilanasterne’s nose. Michael confirmed shortly afterwards that his bay mare was completely fine, the equivalent of a ‘nose bleed’.
Yesterday’s quarter final leaders Paris Panthers fielded Yuri Mansur first, the Brazilian rider collecting just four faults for the team. Panthers’ Team Owner Jennifer Gates watched on from the kiss and cry as Gregory Wathelet and MJT Nevados S flew to a spectacular clear, the team still in contention of making the final. Darragh Kenny pulled out the ride of his life with Balou Du Reventon, after his horse almost stopped at the GC vertical before clearing it almost at a standstill. Jennifer raised her arms in delight at her team’s score and said: “I am super excited. I couldn’t be happier. The riders did their best and I am very proud of them.”
First of the top four teams who had fast-tracked their way to the semi finals were the Rome Gladiators – the green team throwing down the gauntlet with a gutsy clear from Laura Kraut and Zeremonie. A pole down at the Liverpool for both Marlon Zanotelli and Lorenzo de Luca would drop the score to eight. But as Lorenzo put his foot on the gas another pole fell, putting the Gladiators on 12, right on the edge of the missing out on the final.
Miami Celtics’ Jessica Springsteen and RMF Zecilie collected eight faults, putting the team into the danger zone. Shane Breen knew he had to jump clear but it all came undone at the last line, the final fence falling and dropping the team to 12. U25 rider Michael Duffy had enormous pressure on his shoulders, knowing a fast clear would be the only chance the team would have of making the final. But the young Irishman finished clear, riding his 9 year Quinatno 35 beautifully to keep the team on the knife edge.
Just two teams remained, and they were the two greatest rivals of the 2018 Championship. London Knights and Valkenswaard United.
Marcus Ehning and the pocket-rocket Comme Il Faut were first to go for Valkenswaard United, setting off at a gallop. The fiery stallion flew around the arena to jump clear, passing the baton to Bertram Allen and Molly Malone. The vertical fell in the middle of the combination, but another fast round would keep them at the sharper end of the grid. Final rider Alberto Zorzi and Contanga 3 faced down monumental pressure, clocking up four faults but making it into Sunday’s final.
Final team to go London Knights, winners of the 2018 GCL Championship, played Nicola Philippaerts up front with H&M Chilli Willi. Spectators held their breath as they rocketed around the track, putting in a clear to buoy the team’s chances. Silence fell as Martin Fuchs and the experienced Clooney powered to the last with a stunning clear.
The atmosphere could be cut with a knife as Olivier Philippaerts and H&M Legend of Love took an early pole. This heaped pressure on the rest of the round, and there was agony as the Rolls Royce fence fell putting the team on a total of eight. But their time was good meaning the 2018 Champions would qualify.
Team manager Ben Maher said: “We cut it fine, but we’re in the final and that’s all that counts. The priority today was to make the top six, we’ll go and think about what to do for Sunday.”
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 each day. You can watch live on GC TV with expert commentary and analysis, innovative new graphics and featuring rider interviews throughout the coverage.
For the full results, please click here.