The world class combination of Ben Maher and Explosion W took Rome by storm winning their second LGCT Grand Prix in a row in the Eternal City.
Victory propelled the British Olympic gold medallist into the lead in the overall LGCT Championship ranking in the final sprint to the 2019 Finals in New York later this month.
Ben is only 11 points ahead of Belgium's Pieter Devos and with Germany's Daniel Deusser breathing down their necks the global circuit is set for a blistering climax.
Thrilled Ben said: “Rome has been a lucky show for me in the last two years and Explosion loves the arena here and with the Italian crowd. It was a big Grand Prix today with not many clear rounds and it was an exciting class to be in.”
Today’s LGCT Grand Prix result also saw Brazil's Marlon Monolo Zanotelli and VDL Edgar M finish second to secure a golden ticket to the LGCT Super Grand Prix at the GC Playoffs in the O2 Arena in Prague in November.
Marlon spoke of his delight at qualifying for the LGCT Super GP: "It's a huge thing - I knew going into the jump off that Ben and Ludger were already qualified. I watched the [LGCT[ Super Grand Prix (last year) and it was an exciting class, right up to the last minute. The public were amazing in Prague, as were all the facilities."
German maestro Ludger Beerbaum and Cool Feeling delivered two superlative clear rounds in the Stadio Dei Marmi amphitheatre finishing third on the podium.
“If I see how Ben has been performing over the last month to two years, it's not luck or chance he keeps on winning. To be just six tenths of a second behind him it fills me with confidence for my next Grand Prix on this horse. Ben deserved to win. For Uliano to have designed a course like this over two rounds, it is the same as Ben and Explosion, it is exceptional,” he said.
With classic Italian opera filling the arena, the three top finishers took their well-deserved lap of honour after a scintillating afternoon of top sport. Fans had packed the stands and the stone steps around the show ground as the world’s top riders squared up for the 16th leg of the series.
Course-designer Uliano Vezzani was on a mission to test the best of the best in the 85m x 50m sand arena and there was zero margin for error. The course featured a tricky Liverpool with delicate poles, a formidable Longines triple combination, a delicate plank and a double combination that would end up dictating the shape of the competition and only four found all the answers to access the jump-off.
First in Marlon Monolo Zanotelli (BRA) was fast over the Colosseum fence and executed a brilliant tight turn to the Centurion vertical - jumping a superb tactical round. The pair sailed over the final Longines fence clear and stopped the clock in 39.20 as the time to beat.
Ben could see Marlon had left an opening and he took advantage of the extraordinary speed and precision of Explosion W. The combination were up on the time early on. They were already quick with six strides to the Roman coin oxer and powered through the Longines double combination with its significant oxer before an emphatic gallop to the final fence and the finish line to take the lead by 0.44 sec.
It was not over as Ludger Beerbaum and Cool Feeling came into the ring bristling with determination. Exhibiting the skill and experience of decades at the top, Ludger ensured a superb turn to the Centurion fence and took six strides to the Roman coin oxer keeping up the momentum over the double. But they were not fast enough at the finish and settled for third.
Italy's Luca Marziani and Tokyo du Soleil gave it their all, inspired by a rousing reception from the crowd but it was a high pressure stage and they had faults at the Roman coin oxer and the double combination - finishing on 12 faults. Victory belonged to Ben and Explosion W.
And Ben with London Knights partner Emily Moffitt remain at the head of the Global Champions League - albeit by one point over the St Tropez Pirates.
The current GCL ranking leaders knew they had to produce a flawless score today to be in with any hope of maintaining the overall lead. First up was their Under 25 rider Emily Moffitt, bringing back her top horse Winning Good and they looked on flying form as they took on the course. But the 10-year-old gelding became a little strong to the end of the course, the first part of the double coming down, as did the final Colosseum oxer. Ben Maher piloted his top horse Explosion W, the horse looking to be on stunning form. But they too had the first part of the double down, unusually four faults added to their tally to put them on 17 faults overall.
In a drama-filled, knife-edge competition, it all came down to the final fence with the Prague Lions slaying the Hanburg Giants in a spectacular showdown, Gerco Schroder and Marco Kutscher remaining cool under pressure to take the win over Simon Delestre and Bert Bles.
Flossy Polland jumped to the top in the 2* 1.30m with Gerswin. Eight of the initial 28 reached the jump-off with Flossy and the Dutch-bred eight-year-old outpacing all to take victory by 0.79 sec. Four faults dropped Nici Wilson and Naomi down to fifth.
“He’s a star, he’s jumped clear and placed every day,” said Flossy. “But I couldn’t have achieved any of it without Nici, she gave me some crucial last minute jump-off tactics and the courage to go for it!”
Four faults in the 2* 1.40m speed put Lucinda Roche and Izar LB into ninth.
Text © Jumping Around/Photo © LGCT/Stefano Grasso