Australia’s Edwina Tops-Alexander set the 2012 Global Champions Tour alight in Doha last night, winning the opening leg on her show jumping superstar Cevo Itot du Chateau.
In a dramatic climax to the first Grand Prix of the new season, the reigning 2011 GCT champion beat her rivals in a seven-strong jump off. She was first to go in the jump off and did not think her time of 40.99 was fast enough to win.
The crucial first Grand Prix of the year marks the start of a very intensive road this year for riders and horses and, for many, it will include the London Olympics this summer. More than 80 horses were flown to Doha, Qatar, for the event which is a key indication of form for the season ahead and is seen as serious preparation for the months ahead.
It was a story of split second timing in the Grand Prix jump off as second place Marco Kutscher of Germany, third place Pius Schwizer and fourth place Billy Twomey with the 15-year-old mare Tinka’s Serenade all finished within a hair’s breadth of each other on 41.24, 41.32 and 41.44 respectively.
Tops-Alexander, the world’s No1 female rider and already GCT’s first euro millionaire, spoke of her delight at winning the €148,500 prize money out of a total of €450,000. “Itot is in great shape. It is his first outdoor show this year. He is 16 years old but he feels fresh and I have had a wonderful show.
“Titus and all my horses have really been super,” she said. “Going first in the jump off is definitely difficult. I came out of the ring and said to Jan ‘I don’t think I am fast enough’. But the horse jumped amazingly and as a rider you are only as good as the horse you are sitting on and he was good.”
Runner up Marco Kutscher of Germany, who was riding Cornet Obolensky, said: “It was a good jump off and I am really pleased with second place and I am happy my horse is in good form.”
Third place rider Pius Schwizer, who was second in Doha in 2011, praised his horse Verdi III and predicted he has a great future.
GCT President Jan Tops summed up the jump-off and the three days of show jumping in Doha as “absolutely top sport”. Jan said: “The jump off results are amazing, half a second between 1 and 4. This is absolutely top sport, great precision, deft riding.”
A field of 44 riders started out in the Grand Prix of Doha with 16 jumping clear in the first round. A further seven jumped double clears including GCT 2010 winner Marcus Ehning, Christian Ahlmann and Maikel van der Vleuten setting the scene for a true nail-biting jump-off between some of the giants of the sport.
The victorious riders were cheered by a passionate crowd as they took a lap of honour under floodlights at the immaculate large sand arena at the Qatar Equestrian Federation’s Al Rayyan last night.
Leading Qatari rider Sheikh Ali bin Khaled just missed out on the jump off after his super horse Whitaker had the last fence down.
Ireland’s Billy Twomey added another €45,000 to his prize money for his fourth place finish. With almost €8000 already in the bag from three top ten places during the three days of the United Arab Emirates show, the 34-year-old was the only Irish rider through to the jump-off. Denis Lynch and Lantinus settled for an 11th place slot after faulting once in the initial round.
Twomey was seventh in the 1.50m speed class with his own 14 year-old stallion Romanov. The class was won by France’s in-form Roger Yves Bost, aboard Jessica Kurten’s former ride, Castle Forbes Cosma.
Twomey, who will be celebrating his 35th birthday next week, also took a fourth place with Romanov in the Global Champions Tour show in its opening competition on Thursday, and followed this later in the day with a fifth place on the mare Tinka’s Serenade.
Doha was the first leg in the 2012 Global Champions’ Tour series, which offers the richest prize money in show jumping and encompasses 13 venues in total.
The Global Champions Tour moves to the Oliva Nova resort south of Valencia in Spain next month for the second leg of the 2012 season.