In a night of high drama and shock exits Miami Celtics took top spot in the all-or-nothing GCL Super Cup Quarter Final at the GC Prague Playoffs.
The thrilling knockout competition saw eight teams survive to take their place in tomorrow’s Semi Final and four teams hit the drop zone after facing the ultimate jeopardy of elimination.
But it was U25 rider Michael Duffy with Mullaghdrin Touch The Stars, William Whitaker with RMF Cadeau de Muze and Shane Breen with Ipswich van de Wolfsakker of the Miami Celtics who shot to the top of the score boards in the intense competition, shrugging off serious pressure to secure their place in Friday’s Semi Final.
Michael Duffy said: “It is briliant and we got the job done. But now we focus on tomorrow.”
Local spectators roared in approval as the home city team Prague Lions survived to reach the Semi Final, a rollercoaster ride of three rounds leaving fans on the edge of their seats as they just edged into Friday’s competition.
With the championship’s four top ranked teams being fast-tracked to Friday’s Semi Final, today’s Quarter Final was an all-or-nothing mission for eight of the 12 teams to claim their ticket to the next round.
As well as the Celtics, the qualifiers from today’s Quarter Final were the Cannes Stars, Chantilly Pegasus, Paris Panthers, Scandinavian Vikings, Monaco Aces, Valkenswaard United and home city team Prague Lions. But there was disappointment for Hamburg Giants, New York Empire, Berlin Eagles and Doha Falcons, who would fall into the drop zone and exit.
In a dazzling Opening Ceremony all the contenders for the GCL Super Cup entered the arena to a mesmerising drum beat, with pyrotechnics and a glittering light display ratcheting up the atmosphere and setting the scene for a phenomenal four days of top sport and entertainment.
To the powerful music from the best-selling rock anthem Legendary, riders waved to delighted fans as GCL team logos were beamed around the arena and screens were lit up with dazzling colours. There was a huge cheer for the home city team Prague Lions followed by the Czech Republic National Anthem, sung live with an orchestral band.
Fans at home also enjoyed an enhanced viewing experience thanks to spectacular virtual graphics, new introductory films and with horse and rider statistics, transforming the way the competition was watched.
Uliano Vezzani’s course was an intense first test for the GCL Super Cup, taking no prisoners for Quarter Final. The formidable Prague Flag plank made its return to this year’s competition, the fence last year causing plenty of drama in the GCL Super Cup. A tough green and white triple combination would test the best, as well as a wide Longines oxer and a light to touch Rolls Royce vertical. The fences came up thick and fast, with concentration required to the final moment as riders and horses faced a delicate Charles Bridge to finish with a big gap underneath.
As team after team took their chances in the arena, riders, team owners, team managers, trainers and grooms waited anxiously back stage watching the action unfold on the screens in the warm up arena. Every stride and turn was being scrutinised in the pursuit of success in the intense competition.
Here’s how the action unfolded:
Jur Vrieling – KM Chalcedon
Michael Whitaker – For Fun
Mike Kawai – Celvin
First in was Jur Vrieling, piloting his 9 year old KM Chalcedon – a relatively young horse for this level of competition. They set off at a steady pace, taking the longer routes to ensure they kept the fences up. But the final part of the green and white triple combination came down, 4 faults given to the Falcons with two riders yet to jump. Michael Whitaker brought in his 9 year old mare For Fun, but there was early drama after his horse stopped at the troublesome Prague Flag plank, unseating Whitaker and ending the Falcons chance for glory this weekend. While Mike Kawai and Celvin were allowed to jump, the team would be eliminated.
Francois Mathy Jr – Uno de la Roque
Constant van Paesschen – Vendetta Treize
Roger-Yves Bost – Sangria du Coty
Francois Mathy Jr was the pathfinder for the Chantilly Pegasus, with Uno de la Roque powering over the fences, leaving plenty of air above. The big striding horse flew around the arena, with Mathy Jr adding a stride to the final fence to ensure they banked the much needed clear. U25 rider Constant van Paesschen took up the mantle with his black 10-year-old stallion Vendetta Treize. But they had the first Rolls Royce vertical down, before also collecting the light coloured oxer to put the team on a score of 8 faults. Final rider for the team Roger-Yves Bost could not afford too many mistakes with Sangria du Coty, all the pressure on the shoulders of the experienced duo. And their experience paid off, delivering the clear and keeping the team on their score of 8.
Jane Richard Philips – Clipper du Haut du Roy
Maurice Tebbel – Don Diarado
Abdel Saïd – Jumpy van de Hermitage
Jane Richard Philips had to work hard with Clipper du Haut du Roy, the 11 year old bay gelding a touch sticky around the track. The first part of the triple combination came down, and despite the horse looking at everything around the arena they came home on 4 faults. U25 rider Maurice Tebbel was next to go for the Stars, bringing out his eye-catching stallion Don Diarado. The 10-year-old horse had a look at the Prague Flag plank, but they cleared it, Tebbel encouraging his horse around the tough track to finish clear. Abdel Saïd took over the reins for the Cannes Stars team, with Jumpy van de Hermitage bouncing beautifully over the fences. The duo looked solid throughout, Saïd sitting still and allowing the 10-year-old horse all the room to clear the challenges – they delivered the clear but collected just one time fault to put the Stars on a tally of 5. It would prove pivotal in the final moments of the high wire competition.
Simon Delestre – Uccello de Will
Titouan Schumacher – Atome Z
Bart Bles – Israel v.d. Dennehoeve
With teammate Lauren Hough watching on, Simon Delestre was the first to compete for the Hamburg Giants, bringing out Uccello de Will. Delestre guided the big chestnut horse carefully around the track, surviving a lucky rub of the Czech houses. They kept a steady tempo, and just one time fault would put the Giants on a score of 1, with two left to jump for the team. Next in was another Frenchman in Titouan Schumacher, the U25 rider on a completely different type of horse in Atome Z. The small, agile horse sped around the course, but the back rail of the light coloured oxer fell, dropping the team to a score of 5. Final rider Bart Bles knew he would have to jump clear to stay in touch of the Cannes Stars. But an early fence down in the GCL double with Israel v.d.Dennehoeve would put the pair on the back foot, and then the Czech house oxer would fall, putting the Giants on 13 overall.
New York Empire
Daniel Bluman – Ladriano Z
Spencer Smith – Theodore Manciais
Scott Brash – Hello Senator
With their team theme tune echoing around the arena and Team Owner Georgina Bloomberg watching on, Daniel Bluman and Ladriano Z were first to take up the mantle for New York Empire. But there was early dismay as the third fence fell, the first oxer in the GCL double putting 4 on the scoreboard. Next in, U25 rider Spencer Smith opted to ride his 12-year-old gelding Theodore Manciais but they too had an early fence down – the front rail of the GC Prague Playoffs oxer falling. The pair clipped the top of the Prague Flag plank, the team tumbling to a score of 12 so far. Final rider to go Scott Brash knew only a clear would do, the ice-cool British Olympian piloting Hello Senator for this round of action. But there was instant drama as the first fence fell, the Rolls Royce vertical dropping the team to a tally of 16 and the team out of the running today.
Marcus Ehning – Cornado NRW
Alberto Zorzi – Cinsey
Cian O’Connor – PSG Final
Valkenswaard United played experienced rider Marcus Ehning up front, the German maestro piloting the one-eyed Cornado NRW. The pair looked on formidable form, taking on the track with ease and the stallion jumping his heart out for his rider – they would bring home the clear. Next in was Alberto Zorzi with Cinsey, but the team’s clear score would be short-lived as the first part of the GCL double came down. Another fence at the light oxer would drop the team to 8, with Zorzi working hard to keep it together to the finish. Final rider to go Cian O’Connor brought out his 9 year-old gelding PSG Final, the pressure now firmly on their shoulders to deliver the clear to keep the team in touch. But the Czech house oxer fell, the back rail hitting the sand and dropping the team to a score of 12. United would have a nervous watch to see if they would make it through to the Semi Final.
Laura Kraut – Confu
Jos Verlooy – Caracas
Julien Epaillard – Queeletta
Laura Kraut and Confu were the pathfinders for the Monaco Aces, but the grey horse just clipped the second fence – the GC Prague Playoffs oxer – to put the Aces on an instant score of 4. Kraut had to work hard around the track, Confu taking a look at the impressive arena, but kept it clear through the last. U25 rider Jos Verlooy was next up with his experienced stallion Caracas, the 14 year-old horse pulling out some impressive shapes for the young Belgian. They kept it together, finishing clear and passing the pressure to final rider Julien Epaillard and Queeletta. But they would have to settle for another 4 faults after they misjudged the take-off for the blue oxer, the pair paddling through the fence to put the team on a score of 8.
Darragh Kenny – Balou du Reventon
Nayel Nassar – Lucifer V
Gregory Wathelet – MJT Nevados S
The Paris Panthers fielded Darragh Kenny first, the Irishman riding top horse Balou du Reventon. The experienced 13 year-old stallion looked to have springs in his feet, with Kenny doing well to keep the enthusiastic horse in check. But they delivered the clear, with teammate Nayel Nassar next to go with Lucifer V. But the second part of the GCL double fell, as did the first element of the green and white treble as the 13 year-old gelding lost a little shape. The Panthers would drop to a score of 8 so far as Gregory Wathelet and MJT Nevados S took centre stage. A rub at the first sparked their impetus, and the duo would deliver a solid clear to keep the Panthers on their score of 8, guaranteeing their place in the Semi Final.
Evelina Tovek – Dalila de la Pomme
Christian Ahlmann – Clintrexo Z
Leopold van Asten – VDL Groep Miss Untouchable
Evelina Tovek was first in for the Scandinavian Vikings, riding her dark bay mare Dalila de la Pomme. With teammates Henrik von Eckermann and Geir Gulliksen watching from the kiss n’ cry, the pair made it look easy, the mare sharp and quick off the ground to finish on a clear. Team anchor Christian Ahlmann was next to take up the reins, with his grey 10 year-old stallion Clintrexo Z playful with a kick and a buck around the course. They stayed on track, bringing home the second clear for the team and heaping the pressure on the shoulders of final rider to go Leopold van Asten with VDL Groep Miss Untouchable. They set off at a pace, van Asten clearly looking to keep the horse active and taking on the track with gusto and urgency. But the first part of the triple combination fell, as did the blue oxer set by the in-gate, putting the Vikings on 8 overall.
Niels Bruynseels – Gancia de Muze
Gerco Schroder – Glock’s Cognac Champblanc
Marc Houtzager – Sterrehof’s Calimero
The atmosphere around the arena was like a pressure cooker as the home city team Prague Lions began their fight to survive the Quarter Final knockout. The first rider for the home city team Prague Lions entered the arena to a roar of the crowd, with Niels Bruynseels centre stage with Gancia de Muze. With the stadium willing them on, Bruynseels and the 13 year-old mare were naturally quick across the ground, keeping a smooth rhythm throughout. They had a sticky moment at the triple combination, but strong riding from the Belgian rider would see them finish clear – with team owner Anna Kellnerova’s family on their feet and jumping for joy in the Champions Lounge hospitality and cheers echoing around the arena as spectators roared their approval. Next in Gerco Schroder brought out another experienced contender in Glock’s Congnac Champblanc but there was early pressure as the second fence fell. The Longines oxer tumbled, as did the final part of the the triple, groans from the crowd as the Lions would drop to 12 so far. Final rider to go Marc Houtzager was faced with enormous pressure aboard Sterrehof’s Calimero. With Anna Kellnerova, Marco Kutscher and Wilm Vermeir watching nervously from the kiss n’ cry with team manager Jessica Kurten, they survived a lucky rub of the first, the Rolls Royce vertical, but kept their cool to keep the rest of the fences up. The Lions would stay on their score of 12, securing their place in the Semi Final. Speaking after their round, team manager Jessica Kurten said: “We knew we couldn’t have time faults. Once we saw Gerco had three down I ran out and told Marc to ride clear and fast, and he did that to perfection. Today the job is done.”
Malin Baryard-Johnsson – H&M Indiana
Christian Kukuk – Quintino
Philipp Weishaupt – Volker de la Vigne
Berlin Eagles sent in raw power in the form of Malin Baryard-Johnsson and H&M Indiana, the feisty mare responding beautifully to the Swedish rider’s requests. They set up the team with a strong clear, H&M Indiana tucking her knees up perfectly to keep the team in touch. Next in Christian Kukuk was next to go for the Eagles, bringing out the 10 year-old Quintino. But it came undone at the GCL double, before a further four fences fell – dropping the team to a score of 16 so far and into the drop zone. Final rider to go Philipp Weishaupt brought out Volver de la Vigne, but another 13 faults, including a refusal at the Prague Flag plank would see the Eagles collect the shock score of the day with 29 overall.
Michael Duffy – Mullaghdrin Touch The Stars
William Whitaker – RMF Cadeau de Muze
Shane Breen – Ipswich van de Wolfsakker
U25 rider Michael Duffy was first to go for Miami Celtics, piloting Mullaghdrin Touch The Stars. They got off to a slightly sticky start, the 14 year-old hanging in the air over the fences. However Irishman Duffy gave him the support he needed, giving the stallion the ride of his life to bring home the clear for the team. Next in William Whitaker brought out RMF Cadeau de Muze, the pair looking completely in balance as they tackled the track. They too brought home the clear, leaving it all down to final rider to go, Shane Breen and Ipswich van de Wolfsakker. An early pole at the GCL double fell, and Breen did well to get the chestnut gelding over the Prague Flag plank after the horse took a second look. But they kept their composure to finish the rest of the track clear, the team finishing on 4 faults overall.
The GCL Super Cup Semi Final will take place on Friday 22 November, kicking off at 20:00 local time. Tune in via GC TV to watch all the action live and to see who will qualify for Sunday’s GCL Super Cup Final.