With championship pressure comes championship drama and the GC Prague Playoffs delivered both in spades on Thursday.

Twelve teams contested the GCL Super Cup Quarter Final at the O2 stadium in the season’s culminating championship for the 15-leg Global Champions League (GCL). With 16 GCL teams competing for €11.5 million in prize money and no drop score to be had over three high stakes rounds, the stage was set for nail-biting show jumping.

Here’s where things stand after round one.

©Stefano Grasso/LGCT-GCL

You don’t have to go home (but you can’t stay here)

Party’s over for these four. The famed O2 Arena digital curtains closed on New York Empire, Rome Gladiators, Mexico Amigos and Cannes Stars in the Quarter Final as each team racked up scores of 24 faults or higher. But it cuts a little deeper for Cannes Stars.

Laura Klaphake delivered one of only five clears on the day for the Stars with Davenport VDL. But 16 faults from teammate Isabella Russekoff (Jumpy van de hermitage) and eight from Kim Emmen (Inflame Go) tied the team with eighth place finishing team Scandinavian Vikings. They fell below the cut line on combined time. Peine d’amour.

The Cannes Stars are riding home with a €90k consolation prize though, so there’s that.

David Will and My Prins van Dorperheide. ©Stefano Grasso/LGCT-GCL

Shanghai Swans and Riyadh Blue storm to the top

The most consistent performances of the day came from the Shanghai Swans and Riyadh Blue, both finishing on 8 faults. Christian Ahlmann and Mandato van de Neerhiede started the Swans off with a clear with Max Kuhner on Up too Jacco Blue and Martin Fuchs on Leone Jei adding a pole each.

“We all brought our Championship horses here, which are used to jumping the biggest fences out there, they have good stamina and all have had good preparation coming in here, we are going to make some changes to the team tomorrow, and then hopefully for the Final on Sunday, we are going to bring the freshest and the best horses with the best riders,” said Fuchs.

Riyadh Blue secured second place with a clear from David Will aboard My Prins Van Dorperheide, and four faults apiece from Abdulrahman Alrajhi with Babalou, and Abdullah Al-Shabartly with Kriskras DV.

Francisco José Mesquita Musa and Carte de Blue Marathon. ©Stefano Grasso/LGCT-GCL

Monaco had an ace up its sleeve

Monaco Aces did not have the season they were hoping for in 2023, finishing last in the season standings. They’ve pulled out a surprise comeback in Prague. Coming home on 16 faults in the Quarter Final, Francisco José Mesquita Musa (Carte de Blue Marathon), Sara Vingralkova (How Easy) and Jeremy Sweetnam (Bogano) finished third to leave no question about their spot in Semi Final.

Istanbul Warriors also finished on 16 faults to place in the top 5 after a flawless clear from the on-form Andreas Schou on Darc de Lux. Team rider and owner Efe Siyahi, and Abdel Saïd brought it home for the team one pole ahead of St Tropez Pirates (20 faults).

©Stefano Grasso/LGCT-GCL

Valkenswaard Dis-United

When German master Marcus Ehning, Australian Olympian Edwina Tops-Alexander and THE John Whitaker are your team, you’ve got to like your odds. Only the rails didn’t fall in Valkenswaard United’s favor on Thursday.

The team was thisclose to being eliminated after an uncharacteristic 12 faults from Ehning on Prima du Roset. Their average faults at 1.55m: 2.72 (Jumpr App). A rail each from Tops-Alexander on Fellow Castelfield and Whitaker on Equine America Unick Du Francport put GC’s namesake team in seventh. They’re through to the Semi-Final. But barely.  

St Tropez Pirates also finished on 20, but were two seconds quicker through the timers to finish in sixth.

Speed saves the Scandinavian Vikings

The Scandinavian Vikings gambled on speed—and it paid. Tying with Cannes Stars on 24 faults, Evelina Tovek (Moeboetoe v/d Roshoeve), Richard Howley (Consulent de Prelet Z) and Henrik von Eckermann (Glamour Girl) squeaked ahead on combined time of 201.94 to finish in eighth and advance to the second round.

They were the fastest team on the day and over 14 seconds faster than the Cannes Stars. But will they pay the price on Friday?

All eyes are now on GCL Super Cup Semi Final

The 2023 GCL championship’s four top-ranked team—Riesenbeck International, Paris Panthers, Madrid in Motion, and Stockholm Hearts—fast-tracked their way straight to Friday’s Semi Final. They join the top eight on Friday as all 12 qualified teams return on a zero score to vie for position in Sunday’s GCL Super Cup Final.

The top six squads move on to the Final and two gruelling 1.60m rounds against the clock (and without a jump-off) where the winning team will take home the €2.5 million purse. 

Catch all the action on GCTV.