Edwina Tops-Alexander and California faced down phenomenal pressure to win the first-ever Longines Global Champions Tour Super Grand Prix as runner up Ludger Beerbaum declared the new GC Playoffs a “milestone in the history of show jumping."
Disappointingly, Ben Maher on Explosion W and Scott Brash’s Hello Mr President posted eight faults in round one.
The first-ever LGCT Super Grand Prix featured the 16 top riders who qualified during the 2018 LGCT championship series and the extreme pressure to go fast and clear produced electrifying sporting drama from start to finish.
Earlier the passionate crowd were thrilled by the dazzling Walk of Champions opening ceremony with flaming torches lining their parade in the arena adding a touch of show business to show jumping. Olivier Philippaerts said the event had set a new benchmark in the sport:“Before we got here we did not know what to expect because the Playoffs are new and in a new city, but they have pulled it off, amazing. The shows are something we have not seen in our sport before and it has brought it to a different level.”
Courage, skill and determination was required to conquer all in this fierce battle set over two rounds and the 16 elite contenders were set a formidable 1.60m first round track by Uliano Vezzani in this indoor sand arena. Airy verticals and gaping wide oxers were strategically placed for the ultimate challenge, with the fearsome Longines treble combination coming towards the end of the course, meaning horses still needed to be on full power to clear the oxer-vertical-vertical test. A skinny oxer on a blind bend away from the in-gate was the final trick up Uliano’s sleeve and it all made for an intriguing first round contest.
The first to prove the course was jumpable was fourth-drawn Shane Breen from Ireland, who rode for his life on Ipswich van de Wolfsakker, leaving all the fences standing but adding just a single time-fault.
One of the shock results came from 2018 LGCT season champion Ben Maher with his multi-winning Explosion W. With two rails down they were one of four combinations to finish on eight faults in round one.
But the pivotal round was to come from the world number one Harrie Smolders. An electric clear round with Zinius propelled them straight to the top spot.
“He was amazing, he was fighting for every fence — but then so was I,” said Harrie, with a huge smile on his face.
As tensions rose, the pressure told amongst competitors and it wasn’t until the penultimate rider that Harrie was forced to surrender his lead to the marginally quicker clear set by Australia’s Edwina Tops-Alexander and mare California.
With a clever shake-up of the track for the second round, tensions sizzled for the ultimate showdown. The early riders were on a recovery mission and both Lorenzo De Luca of Italy riding Ensor De Litrange LXII and Ben on Explosion W rose to the occasion, bidding for a far bigger share of the prize money by jumping quick and clear to remain on eight faults.
Ben said: “Today wasn’t our day today. It’s easy to forget Explosion W is only nine and has limited experienced indoors but I’m happy he grew so quickly in the second round. I can’t be disappointed when he’s had such an amazing year.”
Scot added four to his eight to take an eventual seventh place, two places behind Ben in fifth.
As the raft of four-faulters came forward, Frank Schuttert of the Netherlands immediately produced a mesmerising clear on Chianti’s Champion to post a two-round total of four and secured the coveted top spot.
Germany’s Daniel Deusser and Tobago Z are usually one of the most reliable combinations at the top level but added an unlucky rail before it all unraveled for Paris victors Sameh El Dahan and Suma’s Zorro, who came home on a total of 17 faults.
Ludger Beerbaum rode with his trademark precision on Casello and soared ahead of Frank Schuttert (Chianti’s Champion) by over three sec.
But on a night of fluctuating fortunes, Shane Breen, carrying through just the one penalty on Ipswich Van De Wolfsakker, sadly elected to retire when the rails started falling.
All eyes turned anxiously to Harrie Smolders, the first of the two riders on a zero score. But in an excruciating repeat of events on day one, his ride Zinius ducked out at the Rolls Royce vertical at fence nine and the world number one hit the deck. As quick as a flash, Harrie’s chance for glory had vanished.
So it all came down to Edwina, who has been riding the crest of a wave recently, with several big wins to her credit. She needed to jump clear for victory; one down and she had to beat the time of 61.56s set by Ludger Beerbaum. She set off with typical determination but, agonisingly, a rail at fence eight tumbled. Edwina’s agenda immediately switched and she accelerated down the final line and soared over the finish, crucially less than half a second quicker than Ludger.
And so history was made, with Edwina Tops-Alexander crowned the brilliant victor of this revolutionary new competition, that has showcased showjumping and its very best. Ludger Beerbaum was thrilled to finish runner-up and “top rookie” Frank Schuttert placed third.