Ben Maher and Explosion W blast into history with a Super Grand Prix victory
It was a phenomenal climax to a magical season for Explosion W and Ben Maher as they pulled off the win in tonight’s Longines Global Champions Tour Super Grand Prix making a hat trick of titles this season.
It was the moment the very best in the world had been aiming for all year and the €1.25 million LGCT Super Grand Prix proved to be the ultimate challenge. Maher described Explosion W as “magic” and said: "Amazing sport today and top horses and riders in the world. It is just an amazing feeling to be able to win here with this horse, the people who are round me to make this possible and they all know who they are. Magic. No words can explain him, what he has done over the past two years and how he has learned. He proved how good he is tonight."
Phenomenal pressure to win delivered displays of sheer brilliance and moments of heart-stopping drama as the cream of show jumping faced their toughest challenge of 2019.
Ireland's Darragh Kenny, who took second place tonight, said: "These are the strongest combinations in the world at the moment, and they’re all here.”
Switzerland's Martin Fuchs who finished 3rd praised his "great horse" Clooney 51 who was one of the glittering parade of equine superstars, including Cornado NRW, Verdi TN, H&M Legend of Love and Tobago Z.
LGCT Founder and President Jan Tops said “It was an incredible evening, incredible sport. You saw the horse who was the Champion of the season winning against the other two amazing horses, it was just a picture perfect finish.”
The thrilling format with two rounds ensured pressure-cooker tension until the last rider cleared the last fence and the packed O2 arena in Prague exploded in celebration for Explosion W and Ben Maher.
Uliano Vezzani’s first round course required courage, skill and pin-point precision, featuring 16 jumping efforts. The track would feature a spooky first BMW CarTech Group vertical, a Taittinger Champagne oxer, a formidable Longines treble, a beautifully designed Charles Bridge plank, and a challenging final line featuring a huge Czech House oxer to finish. And it produced only four clears from the 18 starters, Ben one of them.
2019 LGCT Champion Ben entered the arena aboard his superstar horse Explosion W, the 10 year-old chestnut gelding trotting proudly into the ring. They looked calm, focused and collected, the crowd pin-drop silent until the final fence where they let out a roar as they finished cleanly - the second combination to keep zero on their scoreboard so far.
Sixteen of 18 came forward to round two to join the clean rounds with faults ranging from one time fault to nine. Uliano Vezzani’s second course set new challenges with Round one scores carried though, and time now an even more crucial factor.
It was tough but Brazil's Marlon Modolo Zanotelli conquered the track with VDL Edgar M to clear every fence and provisionally take the lead on his first round score of four. However, Martin Fuchs set off a flying pace with Clooney 51 to wipe six sec off Marlon's time and take over the top spot, piling enormous pressure on the following riders.
Darragh Kenny and Balou du Reventon started with their heart-breaking time fault. The stallion jumped his heart out for the Irishman and they too opted for a steady approach in an effort to keep all the poles up. They pulled it off, collecting a further time fault, but shooting to the top of the leaderboard with their score of 2 faults.
It was down to the four riders on a zero score.
First of those on a zero score, Israel's Dani G. Waldman would take on the challenge with Caspar 213. They too looked to be going for a steady clear, but the duo hung in the air a touch too long at the Czech Equestrian Team oxer, bringing the fence down. Another fault at the Charles Bridge plank and one for time would see them out of the running on nine faults.
Germany's Daniel Deusser and Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z, the compact chestnut stallion, powered around the arena. But the final element of the Longines triple fell - four faults on his score and behind on the time.
Penultimate rider to go France's Julien Epaillard cantered out with Virtuose Champeix, the Flying Frenchman notoriously one of the fastest men on the circuit. Epaillard kept a steady rhythm throughout the first part of the course, but moved up a gear after they had the Czech Equestrian Team oxer down. But their efforts came undone at the Charles Bridge plank, and were cemented as the final fence fell too, dropping them out of the running.
Final rider to go Ben had all the pressure on his shoulders, however he was sitting on arguably one of the best show jumpers in the sport - Explosion W. They survived a lucky rub of the Czech House double. Maher kept the tempo steady, giving Explosion time to the fences and the crowd held their breath as they approached the final line.
And they were flawless. The crowd were on their feet as they landed from the final fence to seal the win and take the LGCT Super Grand Prix title.
Four faults kept William Whitaker and RMF Echo out of the 11-horse jump-off of the 5* but they were the fastest four-faulter in round one to take 13th. France’s Titouan Schumacher claimed the win on Atome Z with 1.46 sec to spare over The Netherlands’ Leopold van Asten aboard VDL Groep Miss Untouchable.
Lucinda Roche rode Gangsters Paradise into seventh in the 2* 1.35m. Sixteen of the 44 starters tackled the jump-off with Lucinda jumping another clear on the Boss eight-year-old to finish two sec behind the winner.
Lucinda picked up 10th in the 27-strong 2* 1.45m table C speed and handiness with the 10-year-old Izar LB after adding three sec with a rail down. A steady clear from David Simpson and Gentleman VD Veldhof was right behind for 11th.
Text and Photos © Jumping Around/LGCT & Stefano Grasso