A year after the London Olympics team gold medalists Ben Maher and Nick Skelton were back on the podium in the city, securing first and second place in the CSI5* Grand Prix, the headline class of the weekend’s Global Champions Tour show.
The backdrop of the Olympic Park made the perfect setting for British athletes to rise to the top of the leaderboard on Saturday.
The extraordinary British duel in the €450,000 Grand Prix jump off triggered ecstatic applause around the packed grandstands and VIP in one of the most spectacular jump offs in the Tour’s history.
Twelve British riders including the showjumping squad from the London 2012 Olympic Games – Ben Maher, Nick Skelton, Peter Charles, Scott Brash and Tina Fletcher – fought off the competition in the first round qualifier to make it into the final 18.
Five British riders battled through to the final jump off, with last to go Ben Maher putting in the fastest clear of the day to scoop the win with the feisty grey mare Cella. The 30-year-old from Bishops Stortford, Hertfordshire whooped and cheered through the finish as he clinched the €148,500 class by 1.27 seconds from Skelton with Big Star.
Maher said afterwards: “We don’t get many opportunities to ride in this country against the top horses, so it is always nice to get the chance to give the best results in front of the home crowd.”
He took some dramatic risks in the high stakes jump off and said: “Today everything paid off. I took risks but a horse like that gives you so much confidence.”
Maher said the arrival of such a high calibre international 5* in London was long overdue and added: “This week we put on a good show and we supplied really good sport.”
Maher won a Longines watch and €148,500 in prize money with Nick Skelton receiving €90,000.
Germany’s Christian Ahlmann finished in third place with Britain’s William Funnel and Scott Brash filling the fourth and fifth spots respectively, Funnell with the homebred Billy Congo and Brash with Olympic ride Hello Sanctos.
The Longines Global Champions Tour is the first major equestrian event in the capital this summer, and was a strong reminder of the success from the 2012 Games which follows the path of legacy that these riders set up last year.
“The show set up was fantastic, and to be back in London and in a familiar setting with such success was like reliving the Olympics to a great extent,” said showjumping performance manager Rob Hoekstra.
Event organiser Peter Phillips added that “it was crucial to be able to have the event in London, especially after last year. A showpiece equestrian legacy event means a lot not only for the sport of showjumping but for equestrian as a whole.”
After the fourth leg of the 2013 season Luciana Diniz of Portugal is now on top of the overall ranking on 106 points with US rider Laura Kraut hot on her heels in second place on 105 points.
Kraut looked as if she would pull off a back-to-back victory on the incredible Cedric but had four faults in the jump off. Christian Ahlmann’s third place puts him in third on the championship ranking on 100 points with Nick Skelton moving into the Top 10.
The top three are now closely bunched at the top of the championship leader board going into the fifth leg of the series in Cannes as the Tour moves to the French Riviera for the next two events.