It was ‘game, set and match’ today after Ben Maher wrote history aboard Explosion W in an extraordinary Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of New York, taking the LGCT Grand Prix win and the 2019 Championship title just hours after helping to secure the GCL team series crown for the London Knights.
In the city that never sleeps it would turn out to be a superlative showdown with a script that sporting dreams are made of. With spectators filling the rafters of the grandstand and positioned in every inch of space, the equestrian world watched as the knife-edge Championship reached its conclusion on Governors Island.
Belgium's Pieter Devos led the overall ranking by just one point, but with pressure reaching fever pitch it was Ben who kept a cool head in a seven-rider jump-off to catapult himself to the title win - his second after taking the 2018 Championship.
A beaming Ben said: “I knew it would be a tough weekend - the dream was to win the team [title] and the individual. It doesn’t happen often. What a horse - he’s incredible. He understands me, I understand him, we have a great connection and it’s a pleasure to be in the sport like this.
"Its incredible [to win the title for a second year running]. Last year was unexpected, this year I’ve used Explosion a little less, I’ve used Concona, Madame X and F One USA, so I’m lucky to have so many great horses and great owners."
In a touching sporting moment Ben praised his rival Pieter Devos, who was just beaten into second place in the Championship. “[Pieter] gave a great fight, it was a push all the way to the end. I’m sure he’s going to come back strong.”
Pieter was awarded a well-deserved runner-up place in New York today, just shy of the win he so hungered for. Speaking in the press conference he said: "I am proud to be second after one of the best combinations in the world. I am proud of my horses and what they have achieved for me - they did an incredible job and I want to thank them for that."
Third place went to Daniel Deusser, the first time the German rider has rounded out the top three in the Championship race. Deusser said: "Ben and Pieter this year have been in a totally different league. You see how much closer everything got and it has been a tough Championship throughout the whole season. There are multiple different places on the Tour - grass arenas, sand arena, small and big arenas. I tried my best but couldn’t reach Ben and Pieter."
In the breathtaking display of top sport and entertainment, the Finals of the 2019 Longines Global Champions Tour season hit the ‘big apple’ in New York for the first time ever. Set against unprecedented views of downtown Manhattan, the 18-event Championship race came to its climax under clear blue skies and balmy September weather.
Ben took the win today on the Poden Farms owned Explosion W, ahead of Germany's Marcus Ehning who secured the final golden ticket to the LGCT Super Grand Prix with his second place result. Third went to Switzerland's Martin Fuchs after a tantalising jump-off saw drama down to the final fence.
Speaking about the talented 10-year-old chestnut gelding, Ben said: “[A horse like Explosion] only comes around maybe once in a lifetime. I’m so thankful to Poden Farms to be able to ride a horse like this and Cormac, his groom."
Uliano Vezzani produced a masterclass of a course, making full use of the large sand arena. A hefty Longines triple combination made its first appearance of the weekend, and a bush-filled green and white double set by the VIP tent caught the eye of a few horses. The spectacular Statue of Liberty and Empire State Building flanked vertical took centre stage in the ring, and gappy NY silhouetted vertical gave the riders plenty to think about.
There was plenty of hard-luck stories including Scott Brash who elected to retire Hello Mr President after rolling an early pole. In the end, just seven of the starters came forward to the jump-off with the 2019 championship title still hanging in the balance as both leader Pieter Devos and Ben Maher were in the mix. It was game on.
Italy's Alberto Zorzi set the pace with Ulane De Coquerie but Germany's Marcus Ehning took out a stride to the Global Champions vertical and rocketed down the final line to take 0.46 sec off the time on Cornado NRW.
Championship contender Pieter Devos (BEL) returned with Claire Z, the Belgian rider galloping from the off. But there was drama after Claire stopped at the second part of the Longines double - a gasp from the crowd matching the dismay etched on Devos’ face as they finished the round on eight, dreams dashed.
Others challenged but couldn't match the time - until Ben entered the ring.
Knowing he had the Championship in the bag, Ben Maher (GBR) let the brakes off Explosion W - the formidable chestnut horse loving the challenge and leaping every fence clear. They powered to the finish, taking the lead by 0.57 sec.
So it would be back-to-back titles for Ben Maher, securing both the 2018 and now 2019 LGCT Championship. The focus will now be on Prague, and the GC Playoffs, where the Longines Global Champions Tour Super Grand Prix and the GCL Super Cup will play out this November.
The win topped a tough, pressurised but magical weekend for Ben and Explosion W.
In a spell-binding GCL New York, London Knights took both the weekend win and the overall 2019 Championship in one fell swoop, with drama up until the final fence today.
In what’s been a roller-coaster season, which has seen the overall lead change hands time and time again, it was the London Knights who secured a historic second title win, after Ben Maher and Martin Fuchs delivered four flawless clear rounds aboard their top horses Explosion W and Clooney 51.
The Knights finished three points ahead of St Tropez Pirates, with a total of 326 points this year. Madrid in Motion secured third in the Championship with 303 points, with the Shanghai Swans just hanging onto their fourth place meaning they too will fast-track to the semi-finals at the GCL Super Cup at the GC Prague Playoffs.
With both riders punching the air in delight after their win today, Martin Fuchs said: “It’s been a great year for me - my horse Clooney has been fantastic the whole year, and to be in such a team as the London Knights and with Ben, is special.
“Coming into this event there was a lot of pressure so we said we'd bring our two best horses, we knew had to win [to be in with a chance of the title] so its what we came for."
Ben Maher, who has been an unstoppable force in the management and strategy of the team, as well as a key star striker said: “The whole team have played a part. I think last year was an incredible season but this year we showed our full strength and depth with multiple horses, riders and combinations. We wanted to show what a strong team we are. Explosion jumped a great round, he made my life easy. We finished in style."
Fuchs agreed: "It was a big goal for us - it wasn’t as easy as last year, but this year was a very, very exciting last show."
And it was a case of game, set and match as the Knights stormed the results today, with Paris Panthers’ duo of Harrie Smolders (Monaco) and Darragh Kenny (Romeo 88) taking second in New York, and Niels Bruynseels (Gancia de Muze) and Marc Houtzager (Sterrehof’s Dante) in third today.
Uliano Vezzani produced a masterpiece of a course, featuring a tricky triple combination set down the VIP hospitality, a delicate NetJets vertical, an eye-catching NY silhouetted oxer and a beautiful Empire State Building and Statue of Liberty flanked fence.
As fans packed the grandstands and flocked to the shopping village, the world’s best teams took to the arena for the final shot at the Championship rankings this year. Early local spectators were delighted as the home city team New York Empire Georgina Bloomberg, Scott Brash and Daniel Bluman handed out signed caps and posters to happy fans, arriving in style in a beautiful vintage yellow taxi.
With Paris Panthers team owner Jennifer Gates watching on, Darragh Kenny produced a top class clear aboard Romeo 88 - the 10-year-old stallion skipping around the course and leaving all the fences up. Harrie Smolders swapped to the 10-year-old Monaco, and their tactics paid off - a double clear for the team today and keeping them on a score of eight faults.
Current ranking leaders the St Tropez Pirates knew they couldn’t afford a fence today to keep their Championship hopes alive. Dani G. Waldman was first in piloting her top mare Lizziemary, and produced a breathtaking round - keeping the team on their overnight score of 4. Pieter Devos swapped to ride top mare Claire Z, but the middle part of the triple combination came down putting the team onto a score of eight, and a nervous wait to see what the London Knights would do.
Final team to go London Knights knew a solid result today would win them the 2019 Championship and made no changes to their horse or rider line-up. First in Martin Fuchs brought back the experienced grey gelding Clooney 51. Martin and Clooney looked in perfect harmony, flying around the arena and leaving every fence up. They did their part, with the pressure falling firmly on the shoulders of Ben Maher and Explosion W. With every breath held, the pair flew around the course, and with a final swish of the tail, cleared the last oxer to secure both the win in New York and the 2019 Championship title.
Photo courtesy LGCT/Stefano Grasso