Scott Brash and Ben Maher proved once again why they are the number one and two ranked riders in the world on Saturday night as the British superstars battled it out for top prize in the $370,000 FEI World Cup™ Grand Prix CSI-W 5*, presented by Rolex, at the FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival (FTI WEF). Competing in front of a large, enthusiastic crowd at the Palm Beach Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC) in Wellington, FL, the FEI World Cup Qualifier saw an exciting victory for Maher and Cella, with Brash and Ursula XII finishing second, and up-and-coming U.S. star Lucy Davis guiding Barron to the third place prize.
FTI WEF week five, sponsored by Rolex, will conclude on Sunday with the $84,000 Suncast® 1.50m Championship Jumper Classic to begin at 11 a.m. (NEW REVISED TIME) in the International Arena at PBIEC. Schedules have been revised for some rings, so please check www.showgroundslive.com for an updated schedule of Sunday's competition. The FTI WEF features 12 weeks of world-class competition through March 30, awarding $8 million in prize money.
Great Britain's Robert Ellis set a difficult track for Saturday night's class, with 45 competitors and seven clear rounds to advance to the jump-off. Tiffany Foster (CAN) and Artisan Farm's Verdi III were the first pair to qualify for the jump-off, and cleared the short course in 38.61 seconds to earn the sixth place prize. McLain Ward (USA) and Sagamore Farms' Rothchild had an unfortunate stop on course for four faults in the jump-off in 47.36 seconds to place seventh.
Audrey Coulter (USA) and Copernicus Stables' Acorte were next to jump-off, and cleared the course in 37.52 seconds for a fifth place finish. Scott Brash took the lead next in 35.70 seconds aboard Lord and Lady Harris and Lord and Lady Kirkham's Ursula XII, but eventually settled for second place. Lucy Davis and Old Oak Farm's Barron placed third with a time of 35.98 seconds. Charlie Jayne and Chill R Z jumped into fourth in 37.04 seconds.
Last to go in the jump-off, Ben Maher and Jane Clark's Cella cleared the course in an electrifying 35.30 seconds to secure the victory. The crowd exploded as the pair took a huge leap to the final Rolex oxer and raced through the finish line. They had done it again.
Maher has had an incredible FTI WEF circuit so far with wins aboard several of his talented horses. He and Brash had their first duel of the season in week three's $125,000 Fidelity Investments® Grand Prix CSI 3*, where the results were the same – Maher and Cella first, Brash and Ursula XII second. As the results prove, Maher and Cella, a 12-year-old Belgian Warmblood mare by Cento x Chin Chin, have become quite the dream team.
"It's been an incredible start to the year so far," Maher acknowledged after Saturday's win. "Cella had quite a long rest after the European Championships last year and she came back to do a couple of shows towards the end of last year, and actually has not jumped so much. She seems to love WEF here. She loves the ring, and she feels fresh and on form. She is just an incredible horse to ride."
"I think Bob Ellis did a great job with the course tonight," Maher noted. "I think a few riders were walking the course tonight and saying it looked big, or it looked technical and quite tight in places, but with $370,000 I didn't really expect any less. That's huge prize money, and he was definitely going to make us work for it. I think the course was great. Obviously it suited me. It had everything; faults all over the course, and again, this arena seems to provide some of the fastest jump-offs anywhere in the world. Luckily for me, I had a good draw tonight, and seeing Scott go, he was obviously fast. I was lucky enough to watch them, and it was definitely a big help to me tonight."
For the winner's share, Maher earned an impressive $122,000 for the night's victory. He gave it everything in the jump-off, and the effort certainly paid off. Maher was so focused, he admitted that he was not even sure where he made up the fractions of time.
"I don't know, everything was going so fast to be honest!" he laughed. "I actually planned to take a stride out and do six on the bend from the first to the second jump (the plank), but when I rode in I was a little nervous with the trees on the side that if I angled the plank, she might stop (and) not look where she was going, so I decided to not take too much risk there. I think the way I can gallop Cella to a double like that and a liverpool afterwards is like no other horse. I can gallop her and she kind of stops, backs up, jumps up and that's where I can make up the time."
"It probably looked erratic to the last fence, almost hurtling I guess, but it wasn't by choice," he said. "I turned back tight to the vertical, and she cut left on me, which I was ready for, but she did it a little harder than I thought and she landed a little flat-footed. I knew I had to be committed from the first stride, and I was going, and I got four strides down there and that oxer looked like it was still on the other end of the arena, but I kept going. I don't know how she jumped it, but she did it. I knew if I pulled to the last fence I would be giving it to Scott, so I gave it my best shot."
Brash also gave it his best shot with Ursula XII, a 13-year-old Scottish Sport Horse mare by Ahorn x Papageno, and was happy with his finish. "Ursula jumped fantastic tonight," Brash smiled. "The first round, everything went according to plan until she jumped the triple bar, and I don't know, she stumbled or something but I got the six strides very late to the combination and I was very late going in, and she was really good to jump the combination. Everything else went according to plan. She jumped amazing. My jump-off, I was really happy with. I have been working on my jump-offs with her, and when I first got her it felt like I was going too fast and out of control, then I would go fast for the first half and have to make an adjustment half way around. That was the first time of being able to ride a very smooth jump-off and be very quick. She has kept her head, and I am very pleased."
Maher and Brash have become show jumping superstars and see huge crowds and great fans in Europe. They spoke about the fantastic attendance for Saturday night's class in Wellington and how great the competition was.
"I think it's great wherever we go, we are very fortunate to have a lot of fans," Brash stated. "It is great, it gives you an extra boost when you are in the ring with a lot of people cheering you on, and it just makes you want it more. It was good to see such a busy crowd tonight."
Maher added, "I think it's important not to forget to thank Rolex for the sponsorship tonight. It is unbelievable the money and support that they are putting in to the sport over here, and especially in Wellington. I think it certainly looked like one of the biggest crowds to come out for the first major Rolex grand prix here. It was full from every side, and Bob Ellis did a good job of using the whole arena so the whole crowd could watch. We have the best riders here in the world. It is great sport and great entertainment for a Saturday night."
California's twenty-one-year-old Lucy Davis finished third with her horse, Barron, a ten-year-old Swedish Warmblood gelding by For Pleasure x Nabab de Reve. Davis, who trains with Germany's Meredith-Michaels Beerbaum and Markus Beerbaum, earned the biggest victory of her young career this past September when she won the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix in Lausanne with Barron. The young rider continued to make her mark on the world of show jumping Saturday night with a close finish behind two of the world's best.
"I have a very, very special horse," Davis praised after the class. "We have been together for a year now, and he has improved so much over the year and I have improved with him. It is really special to be able to ride in competitions like this, and being behind two Olympians is very inspiring. It makes me believe my goals and dreams are possible."
"I'd ideally like to do the world championships at the end of the year, but that's a long shot and that's a lot of people's goal right now and it is very early in the year," Davis said of her plans. "My immediate goal is to keep consistent with what we are doing, and we'll see what happens!"
Final Results: $370,000 FEI World Cup™ Grand Prix CSI-W 5* Presented by Rolex
1. CELLA: 2002 BWP mare by Cento x Chin Chin
BEN MAHER (GBR) Jane F. Clark: 0/0/35.30
2. URSULA XII: 2001 Scottish Sport Horse mare by Ahorn x Papageno
SCOTT BRASH (GBR), Lady Harris & Lady Kirkham: 0/0/35.70
3. BARRON: 2004 Swedish Warmblood gelding by For Pleasure x Nabab de Reve
LUCY DAVIS (USA), Old Oak Farm: 0/0/35.98
4. CHILL R Z: 2003 Zangersheide stallion by Chellano Z x A Lucky One
CHARLIE JAYNE (USA), Alex Jayne and Maura Thatcher: 0/0/37.04
5. ACORTE: 2003 Hanoverian mare by Acorado x Stakkato
AUDREY COULTER (USA), Copernicus Stables LLC: 0/0/37.52
6. VERDI III: 2002 KWPN gelding by Hors La Loi II x Cantus
TIFFANY FOSTER (CAN), Artisan Farms LLC: 0/0/38.61
7. ROTHCHILD: 2001 Belgian Sport Horse gelding by Artos x Elegant de l'Ile
MCLAIN WARD (USA), Sagamore Farms: 0/4/47.36
8. CORTES 'C': 2002 BWP gelding by Randel Z x Darco
BEEZIE MADDEN (USA), Abigail Wexner: 4/73.62
9. CABALLITO: 2002 Holsteiner gelding by Contendro x Argentinus
ANDRES RODRIGUEZ (VEN), Arao Enterprises LLC: 4/73.70
10. VINDICAT W: 2002 KWPN gelding by Guidam x Libero H
JESSICA SPRINGSTEEN (USA), Stone Hill Farm: 4/75.01
11. MIC MAC DU TILLARD: 2000 Selle Francais mare by Cruising x Galoubet A
DAVID WILL (GER), Bernadette LeJeune: 4/75.27
12. TALOUBET: 2000 KWPN gelding by Baloubet Du Rouet x Quidam De Revel
PAULO SANTANA (BRA), Paulo Santana: 4/75.61
Source: Press release from Jennifer Wood Media Inc.
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