The Brits were on fire in Rotterdam as they moved one step closer to team and individual medals at the European Championships – and a coveted, much-needed team place at the Tokyo Olympics.
A score of just four faults saw the Brits move up one place to third while a powerful clear from Ben Maher on Explosion W put him at the top of the individual leaderboard.
Dutch course-designer Louis Konickx turned up the heat with a significantly bigger track for the first round of the team competition as 68 riders – including nine individuals not in teams – and only 11 returned penalty-free with Brits Ben Maher and Holly Smith two of them.
But the big surprise was the Belgian team who rocketed from an overnight eighth place to top the leaderboard with three amazing clear rounds and pushing Germany down to the silver position. Britain’s strong performance moved them up one place to the bronze position.
Ben had started the day in third but he climbed two places with that all-important clear round on the 10-year-old Explosion as overnight leader Peder Fredricson (Sweden) and Austria’s Max Kuhner in second both came home on four faults.
The twisting 1.60m track asked plenty of questions in the 17 jumping efforts but it was the water jump that again proved the most troublesome – and it claimed two of the Brits.
Ben got the team off to a great start as pathfinder today and Explosion found no problems in the track.
“He was in great form. I was happy to go first for the team today and he’s really settled into his rhythm. It was a great course and when you get a combination at the end of it it’s always harder, but when you are sitting on the quality that Explosion is, it just makes your life that bit easier. He’s intelligent, he’s smart and he wants to do it. My job is to just keep him relaxed and try and guide him round the course the best I can.”
And Holly Smith strengthened the Brits position with a second clear. The 10-year-old Hearts Destiny had put a foot in the water on day one but there was no error today.
“He was unbelievable and I believe he is one of the best in the world and showed it today. The course was pretty full on from fence one today and a lot were having problems at the water again today but I was determined I wasn’t going to let it happen to me again,” said Holly. “But after that, I settled things down and took Ben’s advice to just jump every fence as it comes in the combination and the on to the last. Thank goodness I’m over the water is what I say!”
Again, the water proved problematic for Amanda Derbyshire and she also lowered a rail at the first element of the combination for eight faults and the drop score with Luibanta BH.
“It was absolutely my fault at the water. She really tried but it was a rider error not hers and she was just unlucky to lower the pole of the combination. She was absolutely trying her best and I just hope we don’t make the same error again tomorrow,” she said.
Scott took the anchor position today but yet again Hello M’Lady was caught out by the water.
“I’m delighted with M’Lady. She jumped fantastic and it’s just a pity at the water. But each day gets better and I’m overall really pleased with her.”
Less than a fence separates to the top three in the teams. Britain moved up to stand in the bronze position on 13.41 penalites, 3.98 ahead of France. Belgium stand at the top on 11.07 and Germany are in silver with 12.22.
The individual is also tight. Ben is in the individual gold position on 0.62 points with Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat in silver on 1.31 with Albfuehren’s Bianca and France’s Alexis Timon D’Aure is in bronze on 1.40. Holly and Hearts Destiny are in 11th position on 4.68.
For World Class Performance manager Di Lampard it was a successful day.
“I am really pleased, we are in a really strong position. It’s nice to be still going up that ladder as a team and to have Ben leading individually. The horses came out of the ring very well and very fresh, the riders are in a fantastic place and the four of them are working brilliantly together. We are in a great position for this stage of the performance and I’m really looking forward to the Team Final tomorrow,” she said.
Text © Jumping Around/Photos courtesy British Showjumping/Lewis Harding