Olympic gold medallist Ben Maher has jumped himself into the top spot in the rankings for the H & M Leading Rider of Show award after a great day at Olympia, the London International Horse Show.
He thrilled a capacity crowd as the sole rider to reach the final round of the Alltech Christmas Puissance. By this stage, the wall had reached 7ft 1in, when his only rival, Laura Renwick, decided discretion was the order of the day.
His mount, puissance specialist Noctambule Courcelle, did actually knock a brick out of the wall, but because Laura had retired, Ben scooped the €5,500 first prize.
"I felt I should go again and it's a shame he knocked the brick, but a win's a win," said Ben, who only rides the 11-year-old chestnut, winner of this class in 2010, in puissance competitions.
The horse is now owned by Michael and Elaine Annis who give him a varied life, which includes side-saddle puissance competitions and the odd day's hunting. "He's got a great home," said Ben. "I probably won't sit on him again until next year!"
Laura, who had been wearing the H & M Leading Rider of Show armband until this point, decided to save her horse, Rollercoaster, who was jumping superbly, for the other big classes this weekend.
"He was giving me such a good feeling, but, unlike Ben's horse, he's come here for other things," she explained.
Unusually, the other seven riders in the class either departed early or decided to retire, and only Ben and Laura got beyond the third round.
Earlier, Ben capitalised on an advantageous draw in the Earls Court Olympic Christmas Cracker. He was last to go in the 15-strong jump-off, producing a blistering round on the "unconventional" Aristo Z to take the spoils.
Frenchman Roger Yves Bost, who has also been having a profitable show, set an early target with a clear in 34.39 seconds on Castle Forbes Myrtille Paulois, but Ben and the flashy eight-year-old chestnut cut in a bold turn to the double and took a stride out to the last fence.
"He's a crazy horse, not a conventional ride," said Ben afterwards. "I don't think there's anything he can't jump. Not many horses in my stable would have made that turn to the double and jumped the oxer like that. But with a horse like him you make a decision every millisecond – the course-walk plan goes out of the window!"
Ben bought the horse as a six-year-old from Barry Dove, who produced him. The Dove family are coming to Olympia tomorrow [Friday] to watch their protégée – they love him so much, they called one of their children after the horse.
"I usually prefer a more controlled sort of ride, but I think he'll calm down with age. He's won every sort of class except a grand prix, and I think he'll take to that as well," explained Ben, who said he might consider him for Sunday night's Grand Prix.
Swiss rider Pius Schwizer stole victory in the thrilling Mistletoe Stakes from leading lady rider Laura Renwick.
The times recorded by riders in the exceptionally competitive speed class kept getting quicker and quicker as riders fought to get ever tighter turns from their athletic speedsters.
Laura looked as if she had bagged victory, but, unbelievably, Pius used the experience of his horse Ulysee to knock over a second from Laura's target.
"Even though he's 15 years old, he's still very fast," said Pius. "He's a speed class specialist and was very fresh tonight."
The evening concluded with the traditional presentation of the Ryan's Son Trophy by John and Clare Whitaker to a great contributor to the sport. This year's recipient was Will Connell, World Class Performance Manager and the architect of Team GB's fantastic success at the Olympic and Paralympic Games.
Source: Press release from Katie Silver
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