London Knights Win GCL 2018 Championship As All Eyes Turn to the GC Playoffs
Photo: GCL / Stefano Grasso
London Knights have won the GCL Championship of 2018 after a nerve jangling final blockbuster and will fast track to the semi finals of the GCL Super Cup at the €12 million GC Playoffs next month.
The stand out combination of the season Ben Maher and Explosion W along with team mate Nicola Philippaerts and H&M Chilli Willi faced down ferocious pressure and rode perfect clear rounds to win both the GLC final leg in Doha and the overall GCL team championship.
Speaking about the GCL win for the London Knights, Ben Maher, who has pulled off an extraordinary double by already winning the LGCT Championship, said: “It has been an incredible season. Explosion W has been a great horse all season, I really trust him.”
Paying tribute to team owner Emily Moffitt, who joined the triumphant prize-winning ceremony, and her family of Poden Farms, Ben added: “It is fantastic with the London Knights win. It has been a strong team spirit from the start and we used all our horses and riders.”
There were incredible battles between the top teams in the ranking. The Miami Celtics delivered a spectacular performance with ice cool clears from Jessica Springsteen and U25 rider Michael Duffy rocketing them into second place on the day at the final and, crucially, securing third in the overall GCL season ranking.
Rome Gladiators’ anchor Laura Kraut and Zeremonie held their nerve and went clear in a pivotal round guaranteeing the team 4th place in the overall ranking to head straight to the semi finals of the GCL Super Cup avoiding the quarter final first stage.
Valkenswaard United, the main challengers to the Knights all season, were unable to deliver the result they needed in Doha and finished second in the overall ranking of the team championship winning €1.68 million.
In the end the sheer consistency and horsepower of the Knights team saw them hold the ranking lead throughout most of the season of the global circuit. In the final ranking they were an emphatic 40 points ahead of closest rivals Valkenswaard United.
It was drama from start to finish at the GCL Final at AL SHAQAB after a scintillating season of team competitions around the globe. Riders from different countries have been united like never before and team strategy and planning has been intense as highly motivated team owners, riders and managers pulled out all the stops in the championship race.
And with only 16 out of 19 GCL teams eligible to qualify for the GCL Super Cup at the Playoffs there were desperate battles to stay out of the relegation zone producing stories of heartbreak and joy.
New York Empire had a mountain to climb but achieved an amazing result to lift them into 16th place to qualify for the Playoffs. But three teams - Chantilly Pegasus, Cascais Charms and Hamburg Giants - were not so fortunate and ended up in the drop zone.
Teams paraded before the final lead into the arena by aspiring young riders from the AL SHAQAB Riding Academy waving the flags of the teams with their signature logos.
The big team showdown got underway in a sunny 28°C with a welcome breeze and viewers on TV and GCTV live streaming were treated to stunning views of the soaring infrastructure of the venue and to the Doha city skyscrapers in the distance. Uliano Vezzani set a time allowed of 76 seconds for the course in the 120m x 80m sand arena so there was no room for error. Although poles fell at multiple fences it was the treble combination that was utterly devilish upsetting plenty of team scores.
Scores from the GCL Round 1 were carried forward and teams started in reverse order with London Knights in the privileged position of going last thanks to their first round clears.
Cascais Charms’ Philip Houston and Mathilda Karlsson were unable to escape relegation and ended on 39 faults dashing any hope of progressing to the Playoffs. Emil Hallundbaek and Cindy van der Straten of Hamburg Giants suffered a similar fate and finished at the bottom of the ranking.
St Tropez Pirates deployed Edwina Tops-Alexander on California and Pieter Devos on Espoir and despite only four faults today at the bogey treble combination, they suffered from heavy first round scores to finish on a total of 24 faults. Their strong performances during the season meant they finished 8th in the overall ranking, comfortably into the GCL Super Cup next month.
Berlin Eagles were under pressure from Christian Kukuk’s total of 19 faults on Lukas, including the middle oxer of that treble combination, but maestro Ludger Beerbaum, who switched from Chiara in R1 to Casello for the final, put in a masterful clear round and the team finished 11th and in 11th spot on the overall ranking.
There was drama from New York Empire as they faced a mammoth task to steer clear of the drop zone. They were 17th in the ranking and carried forwad 13 faults from R1. David Will increased the tension with four faults at the green and blue oxer in an otherwise solid round with Teavanta II C Z. Tension was high but iceman Scott Brash and Hello Shelby pulled off an amazing clear round. By the end of the competition they had climbed to 16th place and safely into the Playoffs.
Prague Lions’ Peder Fredricson and Niels Bruynseels ended up on a combined team total of 22 faults after the two rounds, but some strong results during the season left them in 9th overall on the leaderboard and comfortably into the GCL Super Cup as the home city team at the Playoffs in Prague.
Harrie Smolders and Danielle Goldstein of Montreal Diamonds were hit by R1 scores leaving them in 8th place on a team total of 17.But solid results during the season left them in 6th place in the overall ranking.
The troublesome treble combination hit Cannes Stars hard and their total score of 29 over the two rounds pushed them down to 14th place and 15th on the overall leaderboard. Chantilly Pegasus were unable to lift themselves out of the relegation zone and although Madrid In Motion had a result to forget in Doha, they finished in 10th place in the final GCL ranking. For Scandinavian Vikings the treble combination even caught out star riders Christian Ahlmann and Leopold van Asten but they still finished 7th in the overall GCL standings.
The moment of truth came as Valkenswaard United faced their crucial moment and their last chance to win the season long joust against London Knights. But it was not to be with both Alberto Zorzi on Contanga 3 and Marcus Ehning on Funky Fred surprisingly joining the victims of the treble combination. Their challenge to win the final was over but second place in the GCL ranking ensure the luxury of starting their GCL Super Cup campaign at the semi finals skipping the quarter final stage.
Shanghai Swans had their sights set on finishing in the top four in the season standings. Despite a super smooth clear round from Shane Sweetnam riding Indra van de Rude Heihoef and an unlucky four faults from Daniel Deusser on Calisto Blue, they ended 5th in the overall ranking meaning they have to compete in the quarter finals at the Playoffs.
Paris Panthers also had upsets at the treble combination but ended up 14th in the GCL ranking ensuring they qualified for the GC Playoffs. And Monaco Aces benefitted from two brilliant clears from Julien Epailled in both rounds leaving them in 6th place in the final and 13th overall.
Tension rose in the battle for the top four spots for Prague as Miami Celtics Jessica Springsteen kept it cool and piloted RMF Swinny du Parc to a fantastic clear which was followed by a mature performance under pressure from U25 team rider Michael Duffy on Quintano 35 with only one time penalty. The Celtics finished second in the GCL final and, critically, they were third overall.
Home city team Doha Fursan Qatar had a strong R1 score but Bassem Hassan Mohammed’s 8 faults on Gunder pushed them into 5th place in the GCL final and 12th in the overall ranking.
As the competition reached its climax at sunset Rome Gladiators needed a strong result to stay in the ranking top four. Going into Doha they were only a wafer thin one point ahead of Shanghai Swans. Lorenzo de Luca had everyone on edge with four faults on Irenice Horta and the pressure was on Laura Kraut and Zeremonie. The US champion rider delivered a blistering clear round giving them third place on the podium at the final and in 4th overall.
Hearts were in mouths as London Knights entered the ring in their trademark scarlet jackets gunning for their moment of glory. Nicola Philippaerts on H&M Chilli Willi went clear easing the pressure only slightly on Ben Maher and Explosion W. But Ben and the extraordinary stallion maintained their exceptional form jumping a stunning clear to win the championship.
It had been a high stakes season where strategic decisions to field the best horses and riders to get the best results at the different events on the global circuit ultimately paid off.
Ali Al Rumaihi, Event Director of AL SHAQAB: "As one of only 16 cities in the world [on the Championship], we are very honoured and privileged to be given the opportunity to host this event in Qatar and Al Shaqab. The GCL is an extraordinary sporting event. It takes a lot of effort and being chosen as one of the venues for this competition only goes to show our ability to host and organize world class events."
Jan Tops, Co-Founder GCL: “We are really building tradition as you can see at this event. Today when the crowd came out, and if I see how we started 7 or 8 years ago here with the Federation it’s a big improvement. It’s a fantastic atmosphere for the riders and great to have so many people here for the final in Qatar. It was a nice story for London Knights to win the Championship and very well deserved.
"Valkenswaard United has been for three years near the top - this year I will say they were stronger - and Miami Celtics had a good team so they came back from fifth place to the third. The Rome Gladiators are now in 4th place and have automatically qualified for the semi-finals, they just snuck in front of the Shanghai Swans. I think a lot of things happened this weekend and you know we’ll be super excited for the Playoffs.
"We have sixteen events, and now sixteen teams who are going to the Playoffs. It was fantastic to see the New York Empire back in the race and the good concept [behind the Playoffs] is everybody has a chance to win the big prize pot."
Nicola Philippaerts, London Knights, 2018 GCL Winners: “It’s been an amazing season and for Ben and I to have four wins together is unbelievable. I think all five riders did enough and all five of us deserve to win this season so it’s amazing to take the trophy home. Like Marcus said, every class counts so there’s always a bit of pressure and you need to stay focused - you need to fight for every single round and I think we did that very well this year."
Ben Maher, London Knights, 2018 GCL Winners: “With a team like we have - and I do think we are one of the youngest teams on the League - it makes my life much easier. Every time I pick someone or we have a discussion to make the decision on who rides, everyone delivers. We’ve used every rider on the team at least twice, we’ve used multiple horses and I think that’s the key to our success this year. We were in it to try and win it from the beginning and we started to see we were in a good position around halfway through - there were some tense moments, but we had a nice margin going into this weekend over Valkenswaard United. The GC Playoffs is a new concept for our sport - I think every rider and fan is looking forward to it. We will keep fighting.”
Marcus Ehning, Valkenswaard United: "I must say it was a really good season for us. We did everything but the last two stages we lost a bit - but we are also happy with the second place. At every stage you have to be really concentrate from the first class, they are really big classes where you have to give your best with your best horses and we also look forward to the Playoffs. We have five really good riders first of all and the relationship between us is very good. I think we are friends and it’s a good partnership and that’s also positive."
Michael Duffy, Miami Celtics: "It’s been a really rollercoaster year to come to these shows with the atmosphere and tradition that the Longines Global Champions Tour holds is phenomenal. We are a newly formed team so to be on the podium I think is a good achievement.
"We’ve had our ups and downs, we started with a couple of really not so good results, I came here with a couple of green horses so we were with our backs to the wall a bit. The Rome Gladiators and Shanghai Swans were jumping at the bit and on our heels so we had to try and get it done and thankfully we did. Yeah we finished well and hopefully that will be a good marker for GC Playoffs."