Look closely at Cevo Itot du Chateau, and you’ll see he has faint scars on his head and right shoulder. They’re remnants of an accident that almost took the famous show jumper out of action before he began.
When he was 3, the spunky Selle Francais gelding jumped out of his field in France and was hit by a car, suffering many injuries. His recovery was long but successful, and by the time he was 6, “Itot” was jumping successfully in 6-year-old classes with famed French rider Michel Hecart.
The diminutive chestnut—standing just 15.2 hands—caught the attention of Australian rider Edwina Tops-Alexander, who by then was riding with her future husband, Jan Tops, in the Netherlands. Tops bought Itot as a surprise gift for Tops-Alexander on New Years of 2007. Since then, Tops-Alexander and Itot have jumped on the world’s largest stages, including at the 2008 Olympic Games in Hong Kong, the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games and the 2012 London Olympic Games.
On Nov. 24, Tops-Alexander and Itot, now 16, notched another big win, claiming their second consecutive Global Champions Tour series title. “My horse has been fantastic. He deserves it. It has been a long year, and my horse has been so consistent,” said Tops-Alexander.
Tops-Alexander and Itot won the first of the GCT series, the Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Qatar, in April, then placed third in GCT classes in Cannes (France) and Lausanne (Switzerland), as well as seventh in the GCT class in Monte-Carlo (Monaco). Their results earned them 196 points, which put them into a tie for first with Swedish rider Rolf-Goran Bengtsson. They were so far out in front of the field that no one else could catch them.
Heading into the GCT Final at Abu Dhabi (United Arab Emirates), it was clear it would be a battle between Bengtsson and Tops-Alexander—whoever placed above the other would claim the series title and prize money of $381,860.
In the end, the final was a bit anticlimactic for the series race, as both Tops-Alexander and Bengtsson had rails down in the first round and failed to qualify for Round 2. They remained tied on points, but Tops-Alexander prevailed due to the win on her record; Bengtsson had three second-placed finishes, but no win.
“I have to admit, I was quite nervous [for the Final] and unfortunately had a fence down, but that is how the sport is,” said Tops-Alexander. She has ruled out future international championships for Itot, but he might be back for a bid at a third GCT title next year. “The last two years of his career have been the best, so you never know,” she said. “I am fortunate to have a lot of other very good horses coming along that can help Itot. But there is no reason to stop when he is going so well.”
See the final rankings of the GCT series.
While Begtsson and Tops-Alexander had taken themselves out of the running for the win in the Abu Dhabi class, a fierce battle raged in the jump-off for the top prize of the GCT class. Ukrainian rider Katharina Offel went head-to-head with Olympic individual silver medalist Gerco Schroeder, and Offel came out fractions of a second ahead.
“It is a dream for me to win a GCT Grand Prix,” said Offel, who rode Fidji Island, an 11-year-old mare, to the top check. “Now we made it at the last minute. It is one of the biggest wins of my career.”
See full results for the GCT Grand Prix of Abu Dhabi and watch videos of each round.
Schroeder has had to endure much uncertainty with his Olympic mount, Eurocommerce London, after the chestnut was seized by Dutch authorities just after the Games due to financial problems of the owner, the company Eurocommerce. He received permission to ship London to Abu Dhabi just before the show.
The Global Champions Tour has become a highlight of many riders’ schedules ever since Tops created the series in 2006, with its generous prize money and glamorous venues. American riders like Laura Kraut, Richard Spooner and Beezie Madden have been contenders at GCT events, but no U.S. rider made the journey to Abu Dhabi for the Final.