One fence down halfway, Edwina Tops-Alexander pulled out all the stops to become the first winner of the Longines Global Champions Tour Super Grand Prix in Prague.
The Australian won the Super Grand Prix with a second-round time of 61.08 seconds, less than half a second faster than German veteran Ludger Beerbaum and almost four seconds ahead of Dutch rider Frank Schuttert. All three riders had four penalties over two rounds.
"I really didn't think I had won it, and I couldn't see anything on the scoreboard," said Tops-Alexander.
"I had that fence down and I went inside into the triple and I thought 'My God, I have to jump clear now.' And after that, I just have to go for it,"
The $1.4 million Super Grand Prix, which pitted the 16 winners of the individual LGCT Grands Prix this season against each other, took place on day three of the GC Prague Playoffs, the sport's richest event with a record $13.7 million in total prize money.
"To win here...it was just a super day," said Tops-Alexander, who is married to LGCT founder Jan Tops and gave birth to a baby girl in July.
Tops-Alexander, a two-time overall LGCT winner and the only woman in a field of 16 riders, paid tribute to her horse.
"She has just been unbelievable, she's tried so hard," Tops-Alexander said of the feisty 11-year-old mare California. "She's in super shape."
Disappointment for Maher
A tough first round saw only two riders go clear; Tops-Alexander and Harrie Smolders, the 2017 overall LGCT champion from the Netherlands.
Riding the inexperienced Zinius, Smolders was eliminated in the second round after his horse refused a vertical, throwing the tall Dutchman out of the saddle.
There was also disappointment for pre-event favorites Ben Maher and Explosion W, the winners of the 2018 overall LGCT championship. The pair had eight faults in the first round before going clear in the second, eventually finishing fifth.
"It wasn't our day today, unfortunately," Maher said, adding that his young horse had been a bit spooked by his surroundings. "But he is a young horse, and I can't be disappointed after an amazing year."
GCL Super Cup on Sunday
The GC Playoffs, the first indoor event in the 12-year history of the LGCT, concludes on Sunday with the finals of the $11.4M GCL Super Cup, which will see the winning team take home $3.4M in prize money.
The Sunday finals will be contested by Madrid In Motion, Scandinavian Vikings, Paris Panthers, Valkenswaard United, Montreal Diamonds and London Knights, the Global Champions League winners of the regular 2018 season.
The London Knights, led by team manager Maher, had been close to missing the finals but managed to qualify in fifth place.
"We are in the final and that is all that counts," Maher said.
"I was nervous today, there is a lot of money at stake," said Scandinavian Vikings team manager Geir Gulliksen. "It is important for owners and riders to keep going now."
The GCL Super Cup consists of three rounds over three days, with team managers allowed to change the team line-up each day. The finals will be contested over two rounds on Sunday. Rider and/or horse substitutions won't be allowed during the finals.
"I am super excited," said Paris Panthers' team owner Jennifer Gates, the daughter of Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates. "I couldn't be happier. The riders did their best and I am very proud of them."
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