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Prague Playoffs: Julien Epaillard Wins 2023 Super Grand Prix

©Stefano Grasso/LGCT-GCL

“[The years] 2023, 2022 were my best seasons in my career,” said Julien Epaillard.

On Saturday, the Frenchman added a new feather to his cap: the title Grand Prix of the Longines Global Champions Tour 2023 season. The LGCT Super Grand Prix sees the top 16 LCGT Grands Prix winners (or runner ups in the case of double winners) go head-to-head over two formidable 1.65m rounds for a €1.26 million purse.

Epaillard qualified for the coveted class after winning LGCT Grands Prix in St Tropez and Monaco aboard Donatello D’Auge. The 10-year-old Selle Français gelding is a proven winner for the Frenchman and the highest earning horse of 2023, to date, with €1,047,307 in prize money this year (Jumpr App).

It was another 10-year old that Epaillard tapped for the Prague Playoffs, however.

With just over €300k in career earnings, Dubai du Cendre doesn’t have the financial record of Donatello. Yet. The fleeted-footed chestnut mare does have 12 podium finishes with Epaillard—nine of them victories.

The pair took individual bronze at the 2023 European Championships in Milano, Italy, team silver at the 2023 Nations Cup Final in Barcelon, Spain and are hot off a one-two finish in Lyon, France earlier this month where they won the Longines Grand Prix and finished second (by 0.13 of a second!) in the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Lyon.

Saturday night in Prague, they kept the streak alive, doubling their career earnings and taking their biggest title yet with the LGCT Super Grand Prix. Did we mention the mare is only ten?

©Stefano Grasso/LGCT-GCL
©Stefano Grasso/LGCT-GCL

“I’m so lucky. I have two amazing athletes this year, so I can split the job between two,” said Epaillard.

“I was thinking Dubai was a better here for the Super Cup Grand Prix. She had a great season and a medal in the European [Championships] and also good results in Lyon. So, at the last moment, I changed a little bit my plan and it worked today.”

The challenging two-round course saw no double clears on the day. Seven combinations found a fault-free path around the first round, including Epaillard and Dubai du Cendre. Another four managed the feat in the second round.

Carrying four faults forward, World no. 1 Henrik von Eckermann and the great King Edward set the standard in round two with a clear and the first sub-60 time of 58.76 seconds. But there were six riders still to come, all riding in on a zero score.

Epaillard’s bid looked at risk when the speedy Frenchman added a stride up the first line and dropped a rail at the third fence. But Dubai du Cendre’s footspeed proved to be their making. The pair shaved 1.27 seconds off von Eckermann’s time to take over the lead.

It held to the last as rails and a runout took out the remaining five pairs. With the top seven all finishing on four faults, von Eckermann settled for second. Max Kühner took third on Up Too Jacco Blue in 60.41.

Watch the LGCT Super Grand Prix highlights here:

At 46, Epaillard is a known speed threat and in the prime of his career. He’s finished top 10 in prize money won every year but 2021 for the past four years. With their €300k purse earned on Saturday, Dubai will move from no. 40 on Jumpr App’s horse rankings in 2023 into the top 10.

But as Epaillard knows, take the wins when they come.

“With horses, all things can change quickly,” he said. “But I’m enjoying this moment and I hope it will [continue] for a little bit.” Like to Paris 2024…

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