Prague, Czech Republic – November 18, 2023 – In a dazzling display of excellence, Julien Épaillard (FRA) and his remarkable horse, Dubai du Cedre, emerged victorious in the prestigious €1.26 million Longines Global Champions Tour Super Grand Prix at the GC Prague Playoffs.
The atmosphere inside the arena of the fifth edition of the GC Prague Playoffs was charged with electricity, as a full house at the O2 arena of over 13,000 spectators created an intense and thrilling ambiance. The two round 1.65m competition featured 16 of the world’s top riders, who earned their qualification throughout 2023’s Longines Global Champions Tour season, in a showdown of skill, precision, and athleticism.
The flying Frenchman declared the evening of top sport his biggest career win, describing that the 2023 season has been the best in his career, which now spans two Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix wins, plus the highly esteemed accolade of LGCT Super Grand Prix Winner: “It was amazing tonight, it’s a special atmosphere, it’s a special victory for me today. A lot of suspense with my fault, I was not sure if I would stay in the lead, but it was amazing today.”
Epaillard’s masterful performance secured the coveted title writing his name into history and reaffirming his status as one of the fastest riders on the international show jumping circuit. In a nail-biting finish, 2021 LGCT Super Grand Prix winners Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) and King Edward put up a fierce competition, finishing a mere fraction of a second behind Epaillard, both on 4 penalty-points. The intense battle for supremacy added to the drama, creating an unforgettable spectacle reminiscent of the Super Bowl of show jumping.
Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) said: “You try to enjoy every time you go out with King Edward, of course you have the feeling that anything else other than a win is just not good enough, but when you have a round like this second round, even if I’m second, it’s pure joy and gratitude to the horse.”
Claiming the third spot on the podium was Max Kühner (AUT) and Up Too Jacco Blue who couldn’t quite match the pace, proving just how high the level of competition and the extraordinary talent on display. Speaking to GCTV, Kühner paid homage to the history making Global Champions Prague Playoffs: “Prague is a very special show, we as riders love it, incredible atmosphere – a lot of horse people are coming here who know the sport, it’s always full with the very enthusiastic audience so really a great, great show”
President and Founder of the Longines Global Champions Tour Jan Tops said: “I think what you see here, all the champions from throughout the year coming back and competing together, it’s unique for me, and I think that it’s the best class of the whole year. Coming together in this kind of special atmosphere, in this beautiful arena, it’s just an example for amazing sport in the world of equestrian. This year’s record-breaking attendance is a testament to the growing popularity of the sport and the unique experience that the Playoffs offers.”
Event Director Jan Andrlík smiled: “We are very proud to have Global Champions here in Prague again, and it was a great evening, with great sport and we couldn’t be happier.”
Making their remarkable fourth appearance in the Longines Global Champions Tour Super Grand Prix, Peder Fredricson (SWE), Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) and Harrie Smolders (NED) were the veterans of the class, and by all means knew what feat it would take to stand on the top podium position.
Four riders were LGCT Super Grand Prix debutants, David Will (GER), Andreas Schou (DEN), Philipp Weishaupt (GER) and Bertram Allen (IRL), each with outstanding seasons behind them, proved why they deserved a place on the starting grid in this years event.
Round 1 showcased the extraordinary talent with 6 clear rounds from Peder Fredricson (SWE) on the 17-year-old Catch Me Not S, youngest rider in the field Sanne Thijssen (NED) with Cum Laude, the quickest in the field Andreas Schou (DEN) and Darc de Lux along with Jessica Springsteen (USA) onboard Don Juan van de Donkhoeve. But the clears didn’t stop there as second place combination last year Katrin Eckermann (GER) and Cala Mandia, 2023 second place LGCT Championship rider Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) on Beauville Z N.O.P. and the ultimate winners, Julien Epaillard (FRA) with Dubai du Cedre, all left the fences up inside the time allowed.
All other combinations finished with just a single rail down apart from Philipp Weishaupt (GER) and Coby 8 with an unusual 12 penalty-points writing them out of the game. In the tightest ever LGCT Super Grand Prix any of the 15 riders could still finish on the podium as it was all to play for in the second round.
Proving just how high the pressure was, in an interesting turn of events only one rider who went clear in the first round ended up within the top 5 keeping everyone in the stadium and watching on TV on the edge of their seats right up until the last moment.
Looking to make history and be the first person to ever win two LGCT Super Grands Prix, Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) and Fellow Castlefield opted for a risky strategy of a steady round hoping for the clear. Unfortunately a fence fell and so did her dreams of lifting the trophy once again. Christian Ahlmann (GER) is in the top 4 LGCT all time podium finishers but couldn’t add to his tally tonight as it all fell apart in round two with Mandato van de Neerheide, dropping them down the order on 16 penalty-points.
Piling the pressure on the rest of the field to come Bertram Allen (IRL) and Pacino Amiro were the first clear of Round 2, keeping them on just four faults from the first round. There was drama for David Will (GER) who looked on track for a super fast clear until My Prins van Dorperheide lost his engine to the triple combination forcing a run out.
2023 LGCT Season Champion, Harrie Smolders (NED), gave it everything he had on Monaco N.O.P., but although he was clear he wasn’t fast enough this time having to settle for top 5 finish overall. Next up Max Kühner (AUT) and Up Too Jacco Blue stormed into the lead, cutting a second off Bertram Allen’s time and giving him a long wait to see if he was fast enough. But he didn’t stay in the lead for long as world number one Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) risked it all taking strides out all over. He was clear and stopped the clock in sub 60 seconds on King Edward but with 6 riders left all on a 0 score, he knew he hadn’t done enough.
Coming into round two, Katrin Eckermann (GER) and Cala Mandia had never had a rail down in an LGCT Super Grand Prix. Aiming for one better than last year they entered the arena to a roar from the crowd. But it wasn’t to be as the penultimate fence fell after she took the inside line and crushed her clear sheet.
An unusual stop from Peder Fredricson and Catch Me Not S proved how the pressure can get to some. Another victim of the penultimate fence by turning too tight back to the plank, the 17 year old grey gelding grinded to a halt and knocked them out of the top ten.
Known for his speed, Julien Epaillard (FRA) and Dubai du Cedre took it up a gear when the third fence fell, putting him on the same faults and von Eckermann. With nothing to lose he galloped to the last flying the 1.65m Longines oxer with ease and cutting over a second off the time to beat.
It was heartbreaking for Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) and Beauville Z N.O.P. who had the lightest of touches, and, after taking the risky strategy by aiming for a steady clear, he was too slow for a podium position today.
One to go… with the quickest time in Round 1 Andreas Schou (DEN) and Darc de Lux just had to jump a clear to win. With the crowd riding every hoofbeat with him, a steady and careful approach to the first, the crowd gasped when an early fence fell. Julien couldn’t celebrate yet as the Danishman upped his pace but this forced another error and as the pole fell Epaillard punched the air knowing he had just made history.
Champions were presented a beautiful Longines watch by Longines CEO Matthias Breschan, and trophies awarded by the president of Longines Global Champions Tour & GCL, Jan Tops and Event Director Jan Andrlík in recognition of their impressive achievement.
A worthy tribute was paid to the grooms of the LGCT Super Grand Prix placegetters, Caroline Belouet, Louise Barraud and Mariella Offner, with a gift and trophy awarded to them as they attended awards ceremony with the impressive equine athletes followed by a rousing lap of honour under the eyes of an impressed Prague crowd.
With day three of the GC Prague Playoffs coming to a close, all eyes now look ahead to the final day of thrilling sport and spectating, to the GCL Super Cup Final.
Final Results – €1,260,000 Longines Global Champions Tour Super Cup Grand Prix CSI 5*
1) Julien Épaillard (FRA) & Dubai du Cedre – 0 / 4 = 4 – 57.49
2) Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) & King Edward – 4 / 0 = 4 – 58.76
3) Max Kuhner (AUT) & Up Too Jacco Blue – 4 / 0 = 4 – 60.41
Source: Press Release from GCL – Global Champions League
Photos: © GCL / Stefano Grasso