Maher on Top of the World in London

(Last Updated On: December 18, 2023)
Ben Maher riding Enjeu de Grisien @LondonInternationalHorseShow/Peter Nixon

Thirty-six of the sport’s best horse and rider combinations came forward to contest the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Qualifier with the hope of securing valuable points to qualify for the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup Final in Riyadh in April 2024. With six past winners in the field, as well as the reigning individual European and Olympic champions, the scene was set for a world-class competition.

The first to jump clear in the opening round was Ireland’s Conor Swail, riding the 10-year-old Casturano, who successfully navigated Guilherme Jorge’s technical course. The following eight riders to jump accumulated faults, with poles falling throughout the course; however, the World No. 6, Julien Epaillard, secured a jump-off aboard Donatello d’Auge to the delight of the capacity crowd within ExCeL London.

Duarte Seabra, a former Eventer who will represent Portugal as an individual at the Paris Olympic Games in 2024, joined the elusive list of clear rounds going through to the jump-off. Brazilian rider Pedro Junqueira Muylaert – making his debut at London International Horse Show in 2023 – was the fourth to jump clear, followed in close succession by the World No. 9, Max Kühner. The first British rider to qualify for the jump-off was Matt Sampson riding Ebolensky, the combination that won the London Grand Prix at the Show last year.

The second half of the competition featured some of the biggest names in the sport, with Ireland’s in-form Daniel Coyle, Lorenzo de Luca, already a winner this week, and former World No. 1 Peder Fredricson adding to the list of riders going through to jump against the clock.

Much to the excitement of the home fans, last year’s winner Scott Brash secured his place in the second round aboard Hello Jefferson. In doing so, Brash kept his dreams of becoming only the third person to win back-to-back editions of this class alive, following in the footsteps of legends of the sport – Nick Skelton (1983 and 1984) and John Whitaker (1998 and 1999). Brash was joined in the jump-off by his 2012 Olympic gold medal winning teammate, the reigning individual Olympic champion Ben Maher, who won this class back in 2011.

A total of 11 riders progressed to the shortened jump-off course with the hope of collecting the €42,500 winning prize. Second to go in the jump-off, Epaillard, who won this class back in 2017, set an impressive target jumping clear in a time of 39.29 seconds. Austria’s Kühner came home 0.28 seconds slower than the Frenchman. Sampson had the crowd on their feet, coming close to Epaillard’s time; however, it was Ireland’s Coyle, with a remarkable run to the final fence, who was able to take over pole position with a time of 37.99 seconds.

With three Olympic gold medalists left to go, the result was by no means secured. Sweden’s Fredricson came close, posting a time of 38.42 seconds, leaving it to Britain’s Brash and Maher to spoil the Irish party. Brash rode a beautifully smooth round, with tight turns and a brave gallop to the final Longines oxer to shave 0.19 seconds off the time and take the lead, guaranteeing a British winner. In the end, it was Maher who stepped it up yet again with a textbook round to take the win aboard his nine-year-old gelding Enjeu de Grisien, with the home crowd giving a standing ovation.

Speaking about the class, Maher said: “It was always going to be a fast class with Julien Epaillard going early. He’s a very fast rider, and it was one of those classes where it was a huge advantage to go at the end of the draw. I had my plan, regardless of what Scott or Daniel had done before me, and I took the jumps on the exact angles that I wanted. I felt the double was the hardest for us to jump, but then Enjeu de Grisien showed his athleticism by taking six strides to the next jump as opposed to the seven that Scott had taken before. I came in wide to the penultimate fence, so I could get the turn back to the last that I wanted, and everything just went my way today.

“The Longines FEI Jumping World Cup is the class that everyone wants to win here. I feel for Scott because it is hard when you ride such a great round and then the next rider beats you, but it has been the other way around many times before! The crowd made the atmosphere electric, which was fantastic because the jump-off and the sport was certainly at its best today.”

Runner-up and last year’s FEI Jumping World Cup champion Brash said: “Hello Jefferson has been my main horse for the last two years and I was very happy with him today. After Spruce Meadows, I gave him a break, during which he lost a bit of muscle, and it took some time to get him going again. He jumped fairly well in Geneva last week, but felt back to his best form today, so I am very delighted that he is back to where he can be.”

London International Horse Show first-timer Coyle said: “Last year, I won the North American league with Legacy, who seems to become a different animal at this time of the year. If I can ride her correctly, she jumps so well – like she did today. To beat Ben and Scott, you have to really nail it, and I probably could have cut the turns a little tighter, but after my round I just thought if I win, great, but if not, then it’s not meant to be. Ben and Scott were brilliant, and the crowd got to witness the best sport you can get. I have loved my first time competing at the London International Horse Show, and I will certainly be back.”

For full results, please click here.

Festive Fun at London International Horse Show

The evening performance provided a spectacle of top-class sport and entertainment. The Santa Stakes was won by John Whitaker before the mood lighted as riders began their transformations into their fancy dress characters for the final class of the day, The Fancy Dress Relay.

There was an emotional moment to commemorate the retirement of Lord Firebrand, the Commanding Officer’s Charger, after 10 years of service to The King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery. Known as Yogi, Lord Firebrand led the funeral procession for Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

The New Horizon Plastics London Arena hosted the LeMieux Grassroots to Glory Masterclass with Laura Collett MBE, Megan Elphick, and Richard Waygood MBE. Showing highlights came from The Worker Stakes Championships and The New Horizon Plastics BSPS Performance Coloured Championship.

SANTA DELIVERS WHITAKER WIN

The Santa Stakes continued the world-class action at ExCeL London following the afternoon’s FEI Jumping World Cup. With four of the six riders through to the jump-off representing Great Britain, the expectant crowd was hopeful of a home win.

First into the arena to contest the shortened course was Scott Brash, who was looking to go one better than his second placed finish in the FEI Jumping World Cup; however, with four faults, he left the door wide open to those who followed. On a high from his FEI Jumping World Cup, Ben Maher followed Brash into the arena, but he too picked up faults in the attempt to set an unbeatable time.

Crowd favourite, John Whitaker – who during the course of his career has competed in 39 major championships, winning 24 medals – showed his experience to jump the first clear and set the time to beat of 35.98 seconds riding Sharid. Matt Sampson followed, with a fast round proving that the time could be beaten, but picking up four faults along the way.

The first of the international contenders, Kendra Claricia Brinkop riding Ma Belle, looked like she had done enough to take the lead from Whitaker, but knocked the final fence. It was left to Lorenzo de Luca to dampen British spirits; however, the famously quick Italian was another to accrue faults in his efforts to beat the winning time, giving 68-year-old Whitaker a popular victory.

Speaking after the class, Whitaker said: “It’s fantastic; the crowd was unbelievable and it feels good to beat these young speed merchants. My horse jumped amazingly and I’m glad I’m still able to beat them on my day. I played it a bit safe and it paid off – I managed to put the pressure on and it worked out.”

John Whitaker riding Sharid @LondonInternationalHorseShow/Peter Nixon

The Voltaire Design Mini Stakes (148cms) showcased some of the most promising junior riders, with half a dozen advancing to the six-fence jump-off. Only two managed to secure a double clear, including Ruby Bars and the experienced 18-year-old Casper, who took a cautious approach to jump clear. Bars’ lead was short-lived, as Masie Allsop from Derbyshire, riding Vaughan De Vuzit, surpassed her time by over four seconds, despite the combination having only competed together since October.

Speaking on her win, Allsop said: “I just tried to have a go and have some fun. It was my first time riding at the London International Horse Show and it felt unreal. I couldn’t believe the atmosphere. I never thought I would win; I have only had him (Vaughan De Vuzit) since October and we’ve only done three shows together. He is the most kind pony and to come and win here today was just amazing.”

Earlier in the day, The Littleton Manor Equestrian 128cm Championships saw 12 of the Show’s smallest Jumping competitors battle it out in a thrilling contest of speed. Eight riders made it through to the jump-off, which was a tightly fought affair. Jamie Lim-Goulder was the first to post a double clear, setting a time to beat of 31.79 seconds. Ella Kay stepped up the pace to take the lead at the half-way point, posting a time of 26.53 seconds with Red Alert III. As last to go, eight-year-old Annabel Widdowson – the youngest rider in the class – was out to spoil the party, but her fantastic effort left her in second place.

An emotional Kay said: “My pony is incredible; she really helped me out. In the jump-off, I just went for it and thought to myself, if I have a pole, then I have a pole. It was my last competition with her today as I’m 12 years old, so to win here was amazing. In the yard, she knows that she is better than everyone else – she is so special.”

DICK WINNINGTON

The Fancy Dress Relay was a brilliant climax to the festive evening performance, with seven pairs competing against both the clock and the panel of judges – Pippa Funnell, Father Christmas, and Rory Bremner – for the best dressed prize as well. First in was the pairing of Jodie Hall McAteer as Prince Charming, accompanied by Joe Stockdale’s Cinderella. Their lead was soon overtaken by the Ugly Sisters, John and Robert Whitaker, who went clear and darted around the International Arena in the most unflattering of pink concoctions. 5* Eventers Laura Collett and Tom McEwen (dressed as Snow White and The Queen) took the tightest of lines to put them into the lead just over the halfway mark. However, the last combination to go, Harry Charles and Matt Sampson – much to the enthusiastic crowd’s delight – soared around as Dick Whittington & The Cat to claim the win.

More information about The London International Horse Show can be found at www.londonhorseshow.com.

For more information, please contact: Niki McEwen / rEvolution / nmcewen@revolutionworld.com

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