Great Britain’s Ben Maher and Explosion W, one of the most phenomenal combinations in show jumping today, were declared LGCT Champion of 2018 in a fairytale ending to their blazing 2018 season.
The Olympic gold medallist Ben and Poden Farms’ extraordinary Explosion W have dominated the individual championship this year and not only won the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Rome today, but took the overall Championship title.
Under intense pressure, Ben and the nine-year-old chestnut gelding produced the fireworks in a scintillating LGCT Grand Prix jump off securing their place in LGCT history.
The new LGCT Champion of Champions said after his victory: “It has been an incredible season, I can’t quite believe it. It is great to be back in the top end of the sport. Explosion W is incredibly fast, I have never ridden a horse as fast without really pushing him. What a horse. Explosion is phenomenal for his age.
Lap of honor for Ben Maher, winner of the LGCT Grand Prix of Rome. Photo by Stefano Grasso/LGCT
“I have a lot to thank Poden Farms and the Moffitt family for supporting me, it is a team effort. To finish in style like this is something I will savour for some time. To win is a dream come true.”
Ben is already qualified for the new GC Playoffs in Prague and the first-ever LGCT Super Grand Prix after winning the LGCT Grand Prix in Madrid and Ramatuelle/Saint-Tropez and placing second in Shanghai in an incredible record this year. Due to this being his third win, Ben handed a ticket to the LGCT Super Grand Prix to second placed rider, Henrik von Eckermann (SWE), as per the qualification rules.
Ben is also at the top of the GCL overall team championship ranking with London Knights and could take that title at the finals in Doha in Qatar in November.
The 15th LGCT Grand Prix of the season played out under brilliant blue skies as the cameras panned across the arena towards Rome and the dome of St Peter’s at the Vatican in this unique setting for top show jumping.
It was a sumptuous feast of top show jumping with spectators fanning themselves in the heat as they watched an afternoon of sporting joy and heartbreak unfold. Another genius, deceptive course by international designer Uliano Vezzani required perfect and precise performances from the stellar horse and rider combinations with no room for error. The tough course for the 35 qualifiers produced only five clear rounds at the halfway point.
A volley of top riders went early in the draw and the surprises came thick and fast. There was heartbreak for the first rider in the dazzling sand arena Jane Richard Phillips after her horse Foica van den Bisschop refused causing her to fall. But Irish Under-25 Michael G Duffy (IRE) on Castlefield Rubinus thrilled with the first clear round on his talented former dressage horse.
Michael G Duffy on Castlefield Rubinus. Photo by Stefano Grasso/LGCT
Constant van Paesschen (BEL) and Jilbert van’T Ruytershof followed on with an impressive clear and his compatriot Jos Verlooy (BEL) and Caracas delivered the next clear to win through to the all-important jump off.
But there was no dolce vita for some of the world’s top riders as several bogey fences put them out of contention – and out of Ben Maher’s way.
Peder Fredricson (SWE) and Hansson WL had a dramatic refusal at the spooky last upright but the Swedish champion’s tremendous skill and experience meant he was able to pilot the horse over the jump to finish the round on four faults.
Compatriot Henrik von Eckermann (SWE) produced a brilliant round on Cantinero securing themselves a place in the jump off.
Christian Ahlmann (GER) and Tokyo were among top combinations who fell foul of the tricky course where there were repeated faults at the Longines treble combination and the double combination, the Roman coin upright and the final upright.
Lorenzo de Luca on Halifax van het Kluizebos. Photo by Stefano Grasso/LGCT
The crowd went wild when home favorite Lorenzo de Luca (ITA) entered the arena but he was one of the victims at the Longines triple combination. Italian star Alberto Zorzi and Contanga 3 also produced groans from the crowd as he exited with a surprising 8 faults.
Tension mounted around the arena as it became clear that Ben Maher was in with a strong chance of winning the overall LGCT championship. Despite the knowledge that he could take the title, Ben delivered a flawless round with Explosion W, completing the five rider jump off.
First to return to the ring, Michael G Duffy set the pace, going clear in 39.68 but leaving the door open for a faster contender.
Henrik von Eckermann polished off another great clear stopping the clock in 38.32 after Constant van Paesschen had pushed too hard and suffered four faults at an early fence.
Jos Verlooy and Caracas came close going clear in 38.32 and the stage was set for Ben and Explosion to finish the job. Despite the intense pressure, the British rider appeared cool and calm as he piloted the nine-year-old Explosion to a breathtaking clear round taking the season title.
The Championship now looks to Doha, for the final round of the 17-event season when Ben will be crowned 2018 Champion of Champions and the fight for second and third continues.