Ben Maher and Tripple X III on their way to winning the World Cup round at Olympia, The London International Horse Show. © Kit Houghton
Interview with Ben Maher
The horse certainly looked hugely impressive when overhauling the combination of Marcus Ehning, a former triple World Cup Final winner, and the Sandro Boy mare Sabrina, by 0.34sec.
The German rider was gracious in defeat and indicated that the bay mare might be an Olympic prospect. "I have had a super season, very consistent," he said, "and I think England suits me! It's five years since I last came to Olympia and it is still a super show."
Former World Champion, Ireland's Dermott Lennon, was back in the big time with third place on Hallmark Elite. He was the first rider to produce a zero score in the jump-off, but was overtaken by Ehning. Ireland's only other competitor, Billy Twomey, failed to make the cut after an unfortunate mistake in the first round with Tinka's Serenade.
"This is the biggest win of my career," Maher said afterwards. "There have been times over the last nine years when I've wondered if Tripple X would be any good, and we've had our moments. He was quite a nervous horse at the start of the season, but he is much more confident now.
Marcus Ehning and Sabrina were second. © Kit Houghton
Laura Kraut was fourth for the USA on her Olympic gold medalist Cedric, ahead of the reigning European Champion Rolf-Goran Bengtsson and Ninja la Silla, who incurred four faults when the spring-heeled chestnut caught the wing of a fence with his stifle.
Spanish sensation Manuel Anon, 19, was sixth. Robert Whitaker, seventh on USA Today, Guy Williams, ninth on Titus and Laura Renwick, 11th on Oz de Breve, were the other British riders to make the jump-off.
Course-designer Bob Ellis, who will officiate at the London Olympics next year, said: "This has been as good a World Cup as I've ever seen. It doesn't matter what I build, riders like this will always be able to jump it."
Ben Maher had already taken over the H & M Leading Rider of the Show armband before the World Cup, courtesy of yet another speed class win in the H & M Speed Stakes on Milena, but he has now extended his lead to 3 points over Marcus Ehning.
"Tripple X is a very special and talented horse - he makes it all really easy," Maher said afterwards.
"He's a pleasure to ride, and he always fights for me which is what you need at this level of the sport."
The British rider has had mixed fortunes this season and this horse never really enjoyed a good sequence of shows. "After the European Championships in Madrid I gave him a break for six weeks. I started him again in the World Cup qualifier at Lyon but we didn't make the cut there, and then we didn't get to jump in Verona - but finally we got a chance to show what we could do today and it's great to produce the win in front of the home crowd!" he said.
At Olympia this week the British have made something of a statement in both dressage and jumping. They mean business ahead of next year's Olympic Games on their home turf in London. And Maher is now more convinced than ever that Tripple X is the horse that will take him there. He has nurtured this stallion from the outset - "I broke him, I put the saddle on him for the first time and I gave him his first jump. He has had to move up a gear this season because he was really my only top horse, but he's shown today what he can do," he said.
34 starters from 14 nations; 11 from Great Britain.
11 horse-and-rider combinations went through to second-round jump-off against the clock; 4 of those were British.
The two eight-year-olds - Bella Donna (Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum GER) and Billy Angelo (William Funnell GBR) - were the youngest horses in the competition.
These were exactly half the age of the two oldest horses in the class - the 16 year olds Casino (John Whitaker GBR) and Ninja La Silla (Rolf-Goran Bengtsson SWE).
The British leg of the Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping series at Olympia has brought the 2011/2012 season to the half-way stage.
The next leg takes place at Mechelen in Belgium on 30 December.
1, Tripple X (Ben Maher) GBR 0/0 38.71;
2, Sabrina (Marcus Ehning) GER 0/0 39.05;
3, Hallmark Elite (Dermott Lennon) IRL 0/0 42.43;
4, Cedric (Laura Kraut) USA 04 41.02;
5, Ninja la Silla (Rolf-Goran Bengtsson) SWE 0/4 41.49;
6, Rackel Chavannaise (Manuel Anon) ESP 0/4 41.51;
7, USA Today (Robert Whitaker) GBR 0/4 41.54;
8, Bella Donna (Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum) GER 0/4 41.61;
9, Titus (Guy Williams) GBR 0/4 43.24;
10, Kassini Jac (Ludo Philippaerts) BEL 0/8 40.48;
11, Oz de Breve (Laura Renwick) GBR 0/8 40.86.
Rolex FEI World Cup Jumping 2011/2012 Western European League - Standings after Round 7 at Olympia:
1. Rolf-Goran Bengtsson SWE - 71
2. Steve Guerdat SUI - 51
3. Nick Skelton GBR - 48
4. Scott Brash GBR - 43
5. Patrice Delaveau FRA - 42
6. Denis Lynch IRL - 42
7. Emilie Martinsen DEN - 41
8. Pius Schwizer SUI - 40
9. Kevin Staut FRA - 36
10. Ludger Beerbaum GER - 30
11. Dermott Lennon IRL - 30
12. Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum GER - 28
13. Marco Kutscher GER - 27
14. Maikel van der Vleuten NED - 26
15. Luciana Diniz POR - 26
16. Harrie Smolders NED - 24
17. Malin Baryard-Johnsson SWE - 23
18. Philipp Weishaupt GER - 22