Miami Celtics have kick started their 2018 GCL season with a breathtaking victory in the opening leg in Mexico City. They banked a brilliant win thanks to a double clear from Michael Duffy and Denis Lynch and dramatically overtook the overnight leaders Paris Panthers, who took the runner-up spot, just ahead of the powerful Valkenswaard United in third on the podium.
Michael Duffy (IRL) & EFS Top Contender – Miami Celtics
“I’m lost for words – to come to a beautiful place like Mexico with a new team was unbelievable,” said U25 rider Michael Duffy from the winning squad. “We delivered the goods today, and the plan is to stay at the top!”
Mexico City hosted the first of the 16 legs in the 2018 series as the GCL Championship builds towards the final in Doha and the new GC Prague Play Offs in December.
The course designer set a serious test today with connecting lines requiring some serious jumping. In this timed round, he provided plenty opportunities to cut corners, daring them to take on these mighty 1.60m fences. A flimsy 1.60m vertical to finish proved costly for many but the immaculate turf footing had horses spring-footed.
Run in reverse order of merit from Friday’s opening round and carrying their penalties with them, the 19 teams set out in determined mood with the early teams on a recovery mission in this high-stakes series.
First to go, the Cannes Stars revved things up from the start with the pairing of Piergiorgio Bucci on Driandria and Sergio Alvarez Moya riding Charmeur each adding four penalties to finish on a team total of 30.
New York Empire’s David Will riding Deluxe Ilton jumped a four-fault round and Scott Brash, who swapped horses for today’s competition to his top horse Ursula XII also added four, leaving the squad with a score of 29.
Chantilly Pegasus riders Carlos Lopez and Roger-Yves Bost both brought fresh horses in to today’s competition and it paid off for Carlos with a quick clear but Bosty hit two rails to put the winged wonders on a total of 27.
The competition then really came to the boil and it was great to see the Prague Lions, a new team for 2018, pitting the mighty combination of Gerco Schroder and the fresh-looking Glock’s London. They were followed by a confident round from U25 rider Anna Kellnerova with the 11-year-old Classic and their double clear put them back in the mix on a final score of 17.
Shanghai Swans fielded a new rider from the roster, Daniel Deusser with Tobago Z, and they were just caught by the double for a four-fault round while second team rider Shane Sweetnam returned on Main Road and punched home with a brilliant clear for 20. This played to the advantage of the Prague Lions who climbed another spot up the leader board.
“This is our first event together so we wanted to get to know each other and our horses so we’ll have more of a plan in Miami,” said Shane. “The horses are more relaxed today and they’ve adapted to the ring.”
There was an overnight shuffle in the Madrid In Motion camp with Maikel van der Vleuten swapping on to Arera C and finishing on four faults while new rider Eduardo Alvarez Aznar made his team debut a four-fault one, producing an overall score of 22 which pushed them three places down the leader board.
The pressure continued to build and the electric atmosphere sizzled round the packed stands as the leading pack then took centre stage.
The powerful team of the Rome Gladiators upped the pace once again with Friday’s winner Lorenzo De Luca, this time riding Halifax van het Kluizebos, soared home with a clear before Abdel Said and the scopey Jumpy van de Hermitage’s eight faults put them on an equal score of 17 with Prague Lions, but ahead in the rankings due to their quicker times.
Denis Lynch (IRL) & RMF Cadeau De Muze – Miami Celtics
Miami Celtics and the Berlin Eagles were also challenging on level pegging on carried over scores of six. The Celtics’ U25 rider Michael Duffy will be chuffed to bits with a clear on EFS Top Contender before team-mate Denis Lynch and RMF Cadeau De Muze matched him and that double clear put the pressure placed firmly on the shoulders of the remaining handful of teams.
Hamburg Giants have looked rock solid this week and stood fourth overnight, but Christian Rhomberg, who swapped on to Cornetta for Saturday’s competition, picked up a disappointing 12 before Rene Lopez and Con Dios III added eight. With 25 on the score card they dropped down the order while Miami Celtics continued to rise.
Marcus Ehning (GER) & Funky Fred – Valkenswaard United
Third placed Valkenswaard United, overall winners in 2016 and with a solid roster of riders again for 2018 in their electric blue uniforms lined out first Alberto Zorzi with Fair Light van T Heike — a substitute for Bertram Allen — then Marcus Ehning and Funky Fred. They proved just how costly a mere eight faults could be as their team total of 12 now guaranteed Miami Celtic a podium spot.
The final results were balanced on a knife-edge and London Knights’ new recruits the twin brothers Olivier and Nicola Philippaerts, sitting just one point behind the leading Paris Panthers at the overnight stage, picked up first eight penalties then four and victory fell out of their grasp.
With just a fence in-hand, overnight leaders the Paris Panthers powered into the ring and the final chapter in this thrilling story was set to unfold.
Gregory Wathelet (BEL) & Coree – Paris Panthers
Darragh Kenny drew gasps as the first fence fell and, when a second rail fell in the Longines double, the Miami Celtics were declared triumphant. Gregory Wathelet then needed to bag a clear to retain second spot and he delivered in style once again with Coree right until the final fence which crashed to the ground. However, this pair’s speed paid dividends as, tied on 12 with Valkenswaard United but quicker on time, they finished in the runner-up spot.
Podium: 1) Miami Celtics 2) Paris Panthers 3) Valkenswaard United
So Miami Celtic are the first to strike gold in the 2018 GCL series, with Paris Panthers clawing their way into second, just ahead of Valkenswaard United on the podium.
With the top 35 individual riders from the GCL class also qualifying for Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Mexico City, the winning round from Pius Schwizer and Balou Rubin R puts him in pole position.
Full Results here.
Photos: © GCL / Stefano Grasso @ http://www.stefanograsso.com