British showjumper Ben Maher and Urico headed a raft of international riders to take out the $150,000 CSIO 4* Grand Prix FTI Consulting Winter Equestrian Festival this week.
There were riders from 18 different countries in in the grand prix, and 36 of 50 riders were from outside of the United States.
The course yielded 12 clear rounds out 50 entries for an exciting jump-off of top international riders from eight different countries. In the end, it was once again Maher who led the victory gallop after completing the fastest clear jump-off round in 40.85 seconds aboard Urico, a 13-year-old KWPN gelding (Zandor Z x Fedor) owned by Jane Clark. The pair finished over three seconds faster than second place finishers Laura Kraut and Nouvelle with a time of 44.09 seconds.
Cian O’Connor and Quidam’s Cherie took third place honors in 44.23 seconds. Sharn Wordley (NZL) and Ashland Stables’ Derly Chin de Muze finished fourth in 46.86 seconds, and Kent Farrington (USA) and Robin Parsky’s Blue Angel had the fastest time in 38.30 seconds, but had the last jump down to place fifth.
“It was a difficult course actually in the first round,” Maher said after the class. “I thought it got big; after the water jump it really changed. The fences before it weren’t too difficult, and then once the water took its toll on the horses, the jumps got bigger and a lot of faults came. There were a lot of clears today and certainly a lot of fast ones in the jump-off. I tried to ride the jump-off that I could do, not one that I couldn’t do.”
Maher has now won four of the eight major grand prix classes at this year’s FTI WEF. He also won week one’s $30,000 Mar-a-Lago Club Grand Prix aboard Kavanagh IV and topped both week three’s Fidelity Investments Grand Prix CSI 3* and week five’s $370,000 FEI World Cup Grand Prix CSI-W 5* presented by Rolex aboard Cella.
“It has been incredible here so far for me,” Maher acknowledged. “I think Jane’s horses love being at home. They get to go in the paddock and be real horses and come to the ring here fresh. Things seem to be going my way right now and I know how quickly things can change around, so I am enjoying it as much as I can while it is happening.”
Behind Maher and Urico, Laura Kraut finished second aboard the Evita Group’s Nouvelle, a ten-year-old KWPN mare by Solitair x Contango. Nouvelle is just coming back this season after an injury and had a great finish.
“She got hurt last June, she broke her pedal bone in her foot, so basically from June until I got here she was off,” Kraut explained. “The first fences she jumped were here in January, so today is her very first grand prix and I am really pleased with how she performed. She has matured and I don’t think the time of rest seemed to hurt her too much because she has come back sort of where she was ready to be before she got hurt.”
In third, Cian O’Connor was jumping Adena Springs’ Quidam’s Cherie, a nine-year-old Oldenburg mare by Quidam’s Rubin x Lifestyle, that the rider has been partnered with only since December.
“I got Cherie in middle of December and did one show before coming here,” O’Connor explained. “With her previous rider she did 2* grand prix in Germany, so she is very green.
“I am very excited about her because it has been a while since I have had a horse as talented as that,” O’Connor said. “She is so careful and I am just going to drop her down and move her up and not do too much because it is hard when you only have one horse like that. You really want to spare them, and I am looking forward to a good year with her.”
Several special awards were also presented during Sunday’s Grand prix. In memory of Niall Grimes, the “CHEERS” perpetual trophy was awarded to Cian O’Connor as the top Irish rider during the CSIO, Nations Cup week.
Brazil’s Alvaro ‘Doda’ de Miranda was presented with the Kate Nash Boone Style Award, a perpetual trophy presented by Michael Meller, friends and family to honor the memory of Kate’s support and love of “all things equestrian.”
Beezie Madden (USA) also earned a special award as the Leading Lady Grand Prix Rider for week eight, an award presented by Martha Jolicoeur of Illustrated Properties in memory of Dale Lawler.