Belgian Pieter Devos returned to the winner's circle in the Longines Global Champions Tour (LGCT) -- for the world's top show jumpers -- for the first time since 2014 with a narrow victory in Miami Beach.
Devos and his 11-year-old Belgian-bred horse Claire Z triumphed in an eight-rider jump-off, producing a clear round that was 0.04 seconds faster than former overall LGCT champion Harrie Smolders and Don VHP Z.
"It was great sport today, I'm so happy the way my mare jumped, she jumped everything clear this week," said Devos, who had won his first LGCT Grand Prix in 2014 at the inaugural Shanghai event.
His win handed him a ticket to the lucrative end-of-season GC Prague Playoffs.
Watched by rockstar Bruce Springsteen and Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates, the tight course in the compact, sandy arena of Miami Beach saw seven riders retire in the first round while only three went clear in the jump-off on a hot and humid day.
"It was tough sport, it was of the highest level sport, but it's normal, it's Global Champions Tour, the best riders of the world," said Devos.
"It was difficult, it was very delicate jumping, faults everywhere. That's why I was so happy with my mare, Claire, she jumped amazing."
The Global Champions Tour, show jumping's richest circuit, consists of a record 20 stops in 2019, including new venues in New York, Montreal and Stockholm.
The season will finish with the GC Prague Playoffs November 21-24.
Edwina Tops-Alexander of Australia, a two-time winner in Miami Beach, began the jump-off with a fast ride of 37.38 seconds, but her horse California touched a rail coming out of the double.
Tops-Alexander, a two-time overall winner, watched from the warmup arena as the next four riders -- Olivier Philippaerts of Belgium, Daniel Deusser and Christian Ahlmann of Germany and Britain's Scott Brash -- all failed to jump clear.
Devos entered the arena as the sixth rider knowing that a clear round would guarantee him a spot on the podium. He expertly guided his mare around the course, taking a tight turn into the last jump to finish in the same time as Tops-Alexander, but taking the lead as he made no mistakes.
The seventh rider, Sweden's Malin Baryard-Johnsson, also had a clear round with H&M Indiana, but finished 1.1 seconds slower than Devos, and ended third.
Would the last rider, the experienced Smolders of the Netherlands, spoil the party for Devos? For most of his ride, Smolders was ahead of Devos, only for Don VHP Z to finish in second place in 37.42 seconds as he took a wider turn going into the final jump.
"Considering that the poles were falling quite a lot, I didn't take maybe all the risk but I knew Harrie was also a very fast candidate after me," Devos said. "It was really until the end that I was a bit stressed to be second, but it worked out and I am super happy."
Azure blue waters
The scenic surroundings of the Miami Beach course, built against a backdrop of the azure blue waters of the Atlantic Ocean, proved to be an inspiration for Devos, who had been on the podium twice before in the Florida beach resort.
"On the beach here, it always goes well with me, so I am very happy to come back every time," said Devos, who now leads the overall LGCT rankings with 88 points, five points clear of Deusser and 16 points ahead of Smolders.
"It gives me a super-feeling. When you enter the ring here, you see the sea, I don't know what it is, but it gives me a lot of luck here."
Global Champions League
Earlier in the day, the Global Champions League team event went down to the wire after no teams managed to produce a double clear during the first round on Thursday, which saw New York Empire being eliminated.
After Shanghai Swans swept the first two legs of the GCL, Miami Celtics pulled off a sensational home win as the Irish duo of Shane Breen and Michael Duffy produced a double clear on Saturday to finish with a total of six penalties.
"We've had our ups and downs, and it's nice to come back here on home turf," Duffy told a news conference.
When asked if he had felt any pressure after his team mate and friend had gone clear, Duffy said: "Pressure is for tyres."
St Tropez Pirates, with Athina Onassis of Greece and Devos, were in second place with a total of seven penalties, while Emil Hallundbaek of Denmark and Baryard-Johnsson kicked off their new partnership for Berlin Eagles with a third-place finish, on eight penalties.
The Celtics, who had been lying in fourth place after the first round, moved to third place in the overall classification with 59 points, just one behind St Tropez Pirates. The Swans, the winners in Doha and Mexico City, remain the overall leaders with 79 points.
After Doha, Mexico City and Miami Beach, the Global Champions Tour now heads to Asia, with Shanghai hosting the fourth leg on May 3-5.