The sun was getting low in the sky at the Ridge at Wellington as Britain's Olympic Gold Medalist Ben Maher entered the Grand Prix Field. Aboard his most recent mount Diva, Maher, the number two ranked rider in the Longines World Rankings, tackled the track and climbed to the top of the leader board for today's 1.40m Wellington Turf Tour. It was a moment that marked a solid beginning for the pair-their first win as a team.
The Wellington Turf Tour came home to the Ridge at Wellington for the third week of competition, and with a meticulously designed course by Kenneth Krome, the scene was set for exciting jumper action.
Sweden's Alexander Zetterman set an early lead this morning as the first rider of the day. He piloted Canora, owned by Pine Hollow Farm, to a clear first round and then blazed around the shortened track. An unfortunate rail at the opening fence of the jump off cost him the win today, but his time of 42.806 seconds set the pace for the remaining contenders.
It was Danielle Goldstein, riding for Israel, who had the first double-clear effort. Aboard Carisma, owned by Israeli Equestrian Partners, she took a conservative approach to the obstacles, finishing in 50.175 seconds. Her lead was short lived as Irishman David Blake entered the scene.
Riding Aischa, owned by Pine Hollow Farm, Blake cleared the first round with ease and moved into the jump off. They finessed the seven efforts with ease, tripping the timer in 41.410 seconds to take over the spot at the pinnacle of the rankings.
"We have had her for about a year, and she has had really good results so far this circuit," Blake recounted. "It is nice to bring her here, some place different. It is a little spooky for them, probably because it is so quiet and such a large grass field. I thought it was a nice course. There is a lot of color out there, and a lot of lines. It is the perfect way to educate the horses."
Blake laughed, "She pulled a shoe there at some stage of it, so that didn't make it easy for her. She is a jumper, so she kept going. She went really well, even with three shoes."
He returned to tackle the course once more with his second mount, Doma Sue, owned by Pine Hollow Farm. She is a 9-year-old that is very new to Blake, just recently out of quarantine. They proved that although their partnership may be young, the potential for more is apparent. They posted the third double clear effort of the day in 42.806 seconds.
"She is still building up and getting fit, so we are just really getting to know her," Blake stated. "She certainly jumped really well out there today. I think she is one that is going to jump some bigger classes in the future when she gets some more experience. Definitely bringing her out here with these horses and the grass field helps to put her along that path."
Blake's time stayed untouched as each consecutive contender attempted to beat his pace. United States based Australian show jumper Ben Meredith fell two seconds shy of Blake's time with a final score of zero faults in 44.664 seconds. It seemed as though it would be a win for Ireland, but Ben Maher took the gamble and came out with his new mount Diva. The international leader board only continued to grow.
In November of 2013, Tatiana Kosakova purchased Diva from a prominent breeding farm in England. The mare had been bred and raised with the same family, and proved to be an excellent jumper, all she needed was a top rider to help her shine in the show ring. Maher took the reins, and traveled to Wellington for the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), but not without including the Wellington Turf Tour on his calendar.
"Diva is a great jumper, she is just green, and needs time," Maher explained. "She jumped well in the 1.45m this week at WEF, but I thought it would be a nice change to see what she was like over here on the grass."
As the penultimate rider of the day, Maher entered the competition with a bit of strategy, utilizing Diva's careful nature and speed to his advantage. They successfully cleared the first round, moving into the short track. Since the Ridge at Wellington's Turf Tour uses an open in-gate format, Maher did not have the advantage of seeing Blake traverse the course earlier in the day.
Maher said, "The format is different. Like any jump off, you try to do what you can do, not what you can't." Diva proved that there isn't much that she can't do. Maher guided her through the turns with a steady stride, while using her naturally fast pace to shave the seconds. As he landed from the second to last fence, he legged her ahead to the final oxer. The seconds he cut proved crucial. As they landed from the oxer in 39.812 seconds, Maher took the lead and his first win with the new mare.
"I know she is still a green horse, so I took it a little steady through the turns. The ground was very good," Maher described. "She is a naturally fast horse, she takes a lot of pressure because she is careful. I just rode her around and luckily today it was fast enough."
He continued, "She can get too careful and jump too high sometimes, especially on the oxers. Every now and then, like that last fence, letting her run and stretch out and jump forward is actually, for her, not bad training at all. Maybe a few other horses, it would get them flat and careless, but it helps her. I am hoping that the circuit over the next couple of months will be the making of her, and she is going to be a good grand prix horse for us in the end."
$15,000 1.40M Grand Prix Table II Sec 2b
Place Entry Horse Rider
1st 621 Diva Ben Maher 0 0 0 67.515 0 0 0 39.812
2nd 606 Aischa David Blake 0 0 0 69.969 0 0 0 41.410
3rd 614 Doma Sue David Blake 0 0 0 71.583 0 0 0 42.806
4th 618 Bernadien Van Westuur Ben Meredith 0 0 0 70.239 0 0 0 44.664
5th 607 Carisma Danielle Goldstein 0 0 0 73.585 0 0 0 50.175
6th 589 Canora Alexander Zetterman 000 4 0 4 42.359
7th 612 Thea Samuel Parot 4 0 4 65.741
8th 615 Cita Z Shawn Casady 4 0 4 66.308
Source: Press release from Phelps Media Group, Inc. International.
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