Ben Maher takes the big one at the Wellington Festival finale

Ben Maher hadn’t had the best of shows at WEF, Wellington, until last night (Saturday). He left until last and pulled off the big one, winning the Rolex $500,000 5* grand prix with the only double clear on Jane Clark’s Serena. Way to go Ben!

Seven horses from a star-studded 40 starters representing 13 different countries reached the jump-off of the finale grand prix of the 12-week Festival, and jumped off under lights in front of a packed crowd.

And only Ben could produce another clear over Anthony D’Ambrosio’s track. Both McLain Ward on HH Azur and Meredith Michaels Beerbaum with Fibonacci 17 dropped a rail apiece to finish second and third. Ben was steadier on the 10-year-old selle Francais mare Serena, by Calvaro Z and out of a Damoiseau D’Or mare, but most importantly, clear.

“I have had Serena for just over a year now, and it has been a tough ride. She was a horse that was bought to jump these big classes, but she was young when we got her, and it really took a year to get to know her and for her to get to know me. It has been a lot of hard work and patience from Jane Clark, who supported me the whole way through last year, because I had a lot of disappointing rounds. I told her to stick with me, and we worked hard with the whole team at home. This is the first class she has won, but she picked the right time and I hope there will be many more.” said Ben.

Ben has used the last 12 weeks to develop a partnership with Sarena.

“We had a careful plan,” he explained. “She hasn’t jumped much since November and became pretty consistent over the last few grand prix. The worst she has had is one down since November. I found in the jump-off, when I try to go quick, she starts to run backwards a little bit and it is not always a nice feeling. She has to get confident and get used to running and jumping.

“It was a tough course tonight, but I thought she jumped the first round excellent. It was the first time under the lights for her, and she did not seem to be affected by that.”

Second in the big class, McLain compensated a little by winning the $130,000 Suncast 1.50m final on HH Carlos Z and Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam took the leading rider award.

James Wingrave took fourth in the six-year-old classic on Casio Royale with George Whitaker and Billy Alabama ninth.

Photos © Sportfot