Luciana Diniz and Fit For Fun took the 2015 Championship tonight after winning the final Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of the season in sensational style. The incredible sporting action went right down to the wire in Doha, Qatar, and the top three contenders had fans on the edge of their seats until the final moment of the final round.
It was a magnificent finale at AL SHAQAB with all eyes on the three riders who had battled through the series to be in with a chance of the championship crown - Scott Brash, Luciana Diniz and Rolf-Göran Bengtsson. On the night it was Luciana and her chestnut mare who emerged as the supreme combination of the high octane season.
The Royal Family of Qatar attended the Longines Global Champions Tour event for the second day running and witnessed three strong performances from Qatari national riders, including Sheikh Ali Bin Khalid Al Thani who rode an impressive double clear in the Grand Prix. His Highness The Father Emir Sheikh Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, Her Highness Sheikha Moza Bint Nasser Al Missned and Sheikh Joaan Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani enthusiastically applauded Sheikh Ali and watched the championship prize giving ceremony along with guests in a special cultural VIP tent next to the arena.
It was a epic night of top-level sport at full throttle rounding off a spectacular season. From the opening moments, when the world of show jumping was stunned by the new venue on Miami Beach, the 15-event circuit powered on to stops including Shanghai, Monaco, Paris, Rome and the final in Doha. Fans across the world grew in numbers during the season watching the increasing international TV coverage and live streaming on GCT TV.
All eyes were on Doha and the three who could take the 2015 season title - Scott Brash (GBR), Luciana Diniz (POR) and Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (SWE). The first round course on the sweeping 520m track in the AL SHAQAB arena was a formidable test; it demanded ultra precision and concentration from both horse and rider. In particular the last line of the course and the triple combination with two oxers was a strong test for the best riders in the world as they competed to earn their place in round two. The bright colours of the fences, often depicting traditional Arabic designs, were also a test for the horses, and the stunning floodlit arena set the backdrop for a dramatic 2015 season finale.
Course designer Uliano Vezzani produced a fittingly formidable first round course for the final showdown of the year. It was described by show jumping legend Ludger Beerbaum: "I definitely believe it is big enough, demanding enough. It may not be super technical but the size is serious."
The time allowed in the first round was tight, with 78 seconds given in total for this challenging course. Doda de Miranda (BRA) was the first to go clear with AD Living the Dream, but picked up an unlucky time fault. He was soon joined by Rene Tebbel (UKR) and Hamad Ali Mohamed Al Attiyah (QAT) who rode clear with Appagino, to the delight of his home crowd, however all were just caught out by the time allowed.
Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (GER) was the first to go clear with Fibonacci, and she was delighted with her 10 year old grey gelding. Soon to follow was Qatar's own Bassem Hassan Mohammed with California, and the crowd erupted as their home rider flew over the last.
First to go of the title contenders was Ranking leader Scott Brash (GBR). He and Hello Sanctos flew around but clipped a fence, picking up four faults to the groan of the audience and his fans around the world. The temperature rose as Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (SWE) and Casall ASK were the next title contender to enter the ring, knowing that he would need to win the Grand Prix to be in with a chance of the Champion of Champions Crown.
With the consistency they've shown throughout the season, Rolf and Casall ASK rode a stunning clear - fastest to do so at that point in the competition and pushing Scott down to 15th. As the final riders took their turn, Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) clipped a fence meaning that Scott would go through to the second round, finishing in 18th place and keeping his title hopes alive.
Luciana Diniz (POR) and Fit For Fun 13 were second last to go, and rode a brilliant clear round, the quickest of the riders so far and meaning that the three title contenders would go through to the second round as the intensity rose. The heat was on, with Rolf-Göran Bengtsson needing a double clear in order to go through to the jump-off with a chance of taking the title.
The top eighteen went through to the second round, with Ranking leader Scott Brash and Hello Sanctos first in and with everything to do to keep his title hopes alive. The second layout was a big but fairly straightforward course, with three big fences to start and a generous time of 77 seconds. A rather awkward line to the treble combination would require plenty of care and scope and a 1,60m vertical penultimate fence caught out a few of the top riders.
Scott rode a beautiful round all the way up until the penultimate fence, just clipping the pole and finishing on 8 faults in total with a time of 62.69s. However as the class progressed, the riders to follow also had fences down, leaving Scott at the top of the eight faulters.
The experienced Ludger Beerbaum (GER) and Chiara were first to go clear, and carried through their four faults after a careful round but Bertram Allen (IRL) soon pipped his time with the talented Molly Malone V. Rene Tebbel (UKR) and Forlap also went clear however with their one time fault carried over were soon pushed down the order as Sheikh Ali Bin Khalid Al Thani (QAT) and First Devision rode a stunning double clear round, watch on by members of the Qatar Royal Family. The first to ride double clear, he was followed by Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (GER) and Fibonacci, and, despite a heart-stopping moment at the double, meant there would be a jump-off.
Rolf-Göran Bengtsson (SWE) and Casall ASK were next to go, and rode an unbelievable course, earning his place in the final round. His title hopes still open, he was followed by Luciana Diniz (POR) who raised the temperature yet higher still by following him into the jump-off. Scott was pushed down the order to 8th, meaning he was no longer in contention for the 2015 Title and it was a two horse race to the finish.
The final jump off of the season was kicked off by Sheikh Ali Bin Khalid Al Thani however he had two down despite a valiant effort to reach the podium. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (GER) rode some stunning angles, galloping to the last and flying home with a formidable time of 36.55s and setting the bar for the final two to follow.
The incredible pair of Rolf-Göran Bengtsson and Casall ASK galloped around the course, cutting out strides and pushing to beat Meredith's impressive time. But it wasn't to be, and the formidable duo crossed the line in 37.01 seconds just tenths off the lead. Last to go Luciana Diniz knew that the title was hers, but set out to win the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Doha, and did so in emphatic style, with the brave Fit For Fun 13 jumping her heart out for the final, crossing the line in 36.10s.
It was a dramatic final showdown to what's been an incredible season, with all the emphasis on the top level of sport and the high calibre profile of the Longines Global Champions Tour.
Last night it was announced that AL SHAQAB will be the stage for the 2016 championship final of the Longines Global Champions Tour, which will include the new Global Champions League Team Competition launching next year. Speaking about hosting the final again next year, Fahad Saad Al Qahtani, Group Executive Director Administration of Qatar Foundation and AL SHAQAB Executive Director said: "It is an honour for us, we are very proud of what you achieved."