Maher stamps authority with Grand Prix win in Doha
Having already sealed the Global Champions Tour title coming into the final leg in Doha, Ben Maher put a stamp on his dominance by signing off the 2018 season with a Grand Prix victory at Al Shaqab yesterday.
To top it off, the British rider also led his team London Knights to overall title in the Global Champions League after he and Belgian rider Nicola Philippaerts combined to finish first in the final team competition.
But it was Maher’s victory with his mount, nine-year-old stallion Explosion W, in the €375.000 Grand Prix that stole the show as the spectators marvelled at their combination. Maher had also ridden Explosion W in the team event earlier.
The team gold medallist at the 2012 London Olympics, Maher had a dream season, as he finished with five Grand Prix triumphs. “I can’t quite take it in to be honest. I have such a good bond with Explosion W,” the 35-year-old said, after pocketing a winner’s purse of €123,750.
Maher and Explosion W were the last to go in the nine-rider jump-off and the two galloped at great pace to stop the clock in a winning time of 35.50
“It has been absolutely a great season. I have such a good bond with my horse, which has been created in such a short period of time. He makes my life easier. The jump-off didn’t go as planned but we got on well. He’s naturally fast. It has been a massive rise for him. (He is) simply a great horse,” Maher said.
“I got him when he was seven but I finally had a ride with him in Shanghai. He has been incredible. All credit to my team. It is not just me and the horse. There are a lot of people with a lot of effort making us great on the field,” he added.
Now the British rider will be going in as one of the top favourites into the inaugural €12 million GC Playoffs in Prague in December, where he will compete in the LGCT Super Grand Prix and the GCL Super Cup.
Such was Maher’s supremacy this season that he took home €1 million in prize money in the individual events only. He finished a whopping 43 points ahead of last year’s champion Harrie Smolders, who put it out aptly when asked about Maher: “He was out of our league.”
Only 28 points separated second-place rider Alberto Zorzi (237) and eighth-placed Christian Ahlmann of Germany (209) yesterday, setting up a high-high-powered contest among seven elite riders fighting for the highest spot possible on the overall ranking.
In the end, it would be the Netherlands’ Smolders (runner-up) and Philippaerts (third) who would make it onto the overall podium, with Italy’s Zorzi slipping to fourth.
In the jump-off, Sweden’s Peder Fredricson finished second in the Grand Prix, setting a blistering pace on Hansson WL and coming home in 36.34 seconds. Smolders and Don VHP Z were in top form again and matching Fredricson’s time but just fell short to finish in 36.94 second and take the third spot on the podium.
Last year’s Grand Prix winner Bassem Hassan Mohamed of Qatar was first to go with Gunder. But the dynamic duo could not repeat their heroic feat as they took out three fences and bowed out of the race early.
Earlier, in the team competition, Maher and Explosion’s teammates were Belgium’s Nicola Philippaerts and her mount H&M Chilli Willi, with both combinations riding two clear rounds to edge out runners-up Miami Celtics and third-place Rome Gladiators.
For the overall 2018 season, the Knights topped Valkenswaard United and the Celtics.
CSI5* 1.60m Table A: Against the Clock with Jump-Off
1. Ben Maher (GBR) Explosion W. Time: 35.50 secs, Prize money: €123,750
2. Peder Fredricson (SWE) Hansson WL. 36.34 secs. €75,000
3. Harrie Smolders (NED) Don VHP Z N.O.P. 36.94 secs. €56,250
Global Champions League of Doha second round
1. London Knights: Nicola Philippaerts (H&M Chilli Willi) 74.36; Ben Maher (Explosion W) 70.33. Total time: 144.69 secs.
2. Miami Celtics: Michael Duffy (Egalini) 1 penalty. 77.40; Jessica Springsteen (RMF Swinny du Parc) 72.86. Total time: 150.26 secs
3. Rome Gladiators: Laura Kraut (Zeremonie) 74.46; Lorenzo de Luca (Irenice Horta) 74.17. 4 penalties. Total time:148.63 secs.