It was a phenomenal climax to a magical season for Explosion W and Ben Maher (GBR) as they pulled off the win in tonight’s Longines Global Champions Tour Super Grand Prix making a hat trick of titles this season.
It was the moment the very best in the world had been aiming for all year and the €1.25 million LGCT Super Grand Prix proved to be the ultimate challenge. Maher described Explosion W as “magic” and said:
“Amazing sport today and top horses and riders in the world. It is just an amazing feeling to be able to win here with this horse, the people who are round me to make this possible and they all know who they are. Magic. No words can explain him, what he has done over the past two years and how he has learned. He proved how good he is tonight. Amazing sport today and top horses and riders in the world. It is just an amazing feeling to be able to win here with this horse, the people who are round me to make this possible and they all know who they are. Magic. No words can explain him, what he has done over the past two years and how he has learned. He proved how good he is tonight.”
Phenomenal pressure to win delivered displays of sheer brilliance and moments of heart-stopping drama as the cream of show jumping faced their toughest challenge of 2019. Darragh Kenny (IRL), who took second place tonight, said: "These are the strongest combinations in the world at the moment, and they’re all here.” Martin Fuchs (SUI) who finished 3rd praised his "great horse" Clooney 51 who was one of the glittering parade of equine superstars, including Cornado NRW, Verdi TN, H&M Legend of Love and Tobago Z. LGCT Founder and President Jan Tops said “It was an incredible evening, incredible sport. You saw the horse who was the Champion of the season winning against the other two amazing horses, it was just a picture perfect finish.”
The thrilling format with two rounds ensured pressure-cooker tension until the last rider cleared the last fence and the packed O2 arena in Prague exploded in celebration for Explosion W and Ben Maher.
A dazzling pyrotechnic sound and light show heralded the arrival of the riders in the Walk of The Champions ceremony with the anthem “Legends” turbo-charging energy levels around the O2 arena.
As the lights went down the first combination in the LGCT Super Grand Prix appeared through the illuminated entrance doors on to the stunning stage to loud cheers from the full grandstands. Talking about the special event, which saw a sell-out crowd Kenny said: "The way they do this show is brilliant, it is the way our industry needs to go. It’s an incredible atmosphere.”
Uliano Vezzani’s first round course required courage, skill and pin-point precision, featuring 16 jumping efforts. The track would feature a spooky first BMW CarTech Group vertical, a Taittinger Champagne oxer, a formidable Longines treble, a beautifully designed Charles Bridge plank, and a challenging final line featuring a huge Czech House oxer to finish.
First in was Marcus Ehning (GER), piloting his one-eyed grey stallion Cornado NRW; trailblazers for this evening’s class. Their focus was clear from the start, the grey horse jumping responsively to the German maestro’s requests. But they came in too flat down the final line, taking the first of the double of liverpools out, collecting 4 faults.
Peder Fredricson (SWE) and H&M All In found the track a tougher challenge, the 13 year-old gelding just dropping short on the oxer in the first double of verticals. They were also forward into the Longines treble combination, taking out the first element to come home on 8 faults and with everything to do in the second round.
The first clear of the evening came from Julien Epaillard (FRA) with his 10 year-old stallion Virtuose Champeix to the delight of the crowd who roared in appreciation. Ecstatic Epaillard punched the air in celebration, patting the liver-chestnut horse as they exited the arena. Speaking after his round he said: “The feeling in the arena is amazing, the atmosphere is fantastic - it’s a really strong Grand Prix."
Jérôme Guery (BEL) and Quel Homme de Hus had a disappointing two down to finish on 8 faults, and Jessica Springsteen (USA) with RMF Zecilie would have a first round to forget, finishing on 16 faults.
The bush lined oxer fell for Martin Fuchs (SUI) and Clooney 51, the pair just missing the width of the 1.60m challenge. They had a moment down the final line, but Fuchs was able to bring the 13 year-old grey gelding back to finish their first round on 4 faults and in with a chance.
A miscommunication for Olivier Philippaerts (BEL) and H&M Legend of Love saw the grey and white plank come down, and the back bar of the final element of the Longines triple fell as the mare became a little keen to the fences.
2019 LGCT Champion Ben Maher (GBR) entered the arena aboard his superstar horse Explosion W, the 10 year-old chestnut gelding trotting proudly into the ring. They looked calm, focused and collected, the crowd pin-drop silent until the final fence where they let out a roar as they finished cleanly - the second combination to keep zero on their scoreboard so far.
The small but mighty Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z jumped his heart out for Daniel Deusser (GER), the German rider leaving nothing to chance as they tackled the track. They kept the energy and tempo high, securing a clear round and putting them in a prime position for the second round.
Pieter Devos (BEL) and his 11 year-old Claire Z looked racy from the start. They took a tight turn to the Longines triple, but the first element - a wide oxer - just caught them out, the back rail falling to put them on 4 faults. Speaking after his round Pieter said: “It’s a disappointing fault, and not one that I expected. It’s not lost yet, I still have faith.”
Another superstar stallion Verdi TN came out for this high profile competition, Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) aboard the 17 year-old horse. But they came home on an unlucky 8 faults, with an uphill battle in round two. An early fence for Niels Bruynseels (BEL) and Gancia de Muze put the pair on the back foot, but they regained composure to finish on 4 faults with a trademark swish of her tail.
Darragh Kenny (IRL) and Balou du Reventon looked on phenomenal form, the beautiful 13 year-old stallion taking the obstacles in his stride to finish clear. But there was heartache for the pair as they picked up one time fault.
Shane Sweetnam (IRL) and Chaqui Z had a sticky moment to the first fence as the 13 year-old bay stallion backed off. But they cleared it and continued on their way. The Astronomical Clock oxer fell however, as did the Coin vertical, the pair picking up a time fault to boot to finish on 9 faults.
Christian Ahlmann (GER) and Take A Chance On Me Z had the middle element of the Longines triple down, and a fault at the Coin vertical would put them on 8 faults.
There would be delight for Dani G. Waldman (ISR) and Caspar 213, who, despite the horse kicking out in the final oxer of the Longines triple, managed to keep her seat as the crowd gasped. Waldman quickly regained composure to finish clear, adding their names into the mix for chance at a podium position tonight.
Marlon Modolo Zanotelli (BRA) brought out the big VDL Edgar M, the Brazilian rider giving the horse as much time as possible to the fences. But the Longines triple claimed another victim as the first element fell, the pair having to settle for 4 faults so far.
Final rider to go Ludger Beerbaum (GER) entered the arena to an appreciative cheer of the knowledgeable crowd, the multiple Olympian riding Cool Feeling tonight. The duo looked formidably strong from the start, but there was disaster as Beerbaum lost a rein to the final line, the pair making the first fence but knocking out the second element and having to circle. They collected themselves and cleared the last but would finish the first round on 12 faults.
Uliano Vezzani’s second course set new challenges with Round 1 scores carried though, and time now an even more crucial factor.
First to return to the ring was Shane Sweetnam (IRL) with Chaqui Z, but their day went from bad to worse as they collected yet more faults to finish their challenge on a tally of 21 overall. Christian Ahlmann (GER) brought forward his first round score of 8, with his 10 year-old stallion Take A Chance On Me Z. They had a wobble down the final line, but kept it together - leaving every fence up but collecting 1 time fault to put them on 10.
Jérôme Guery’s luck ran out early on, as he clipped the first vertical of the Czech House double with Quel Homme de Hus. Another pole at the Czech Equestrian Team oxer would drop them to a total of 16.
Maikel van der Vleuten (NED) and Verdi TN returned to the arena. The more they jumped, the better they looked, finishing clear with a celebratory buck through the finish gates. They would keep their score of 8.
Olivier Philippaerts (BEL) was next to try his luck with H&M Legend of Love. But their pace was fast and the Czech House double fell, as did the first element of the Longines triple - they would finish on 16 overall. Last of those on 8 faults, Peder Fredricson (SWE) and H&M All In produced a calculated round, pulling out all the stops to finish clear - keeping their score of 8 but crucially just slower than van der Vleuten.
Starting on 4 faults, Marlon Modolo Zanotelli (BRA) brought back VDL Edgar M - the big striding horse gliding around the arena. They kept absolute focus, the Brazilian keeping the keen horse calming in check to finish clear. They would provisionally take over the top spot with their score of 4 faults.
Martin Fuchs (SUI) and Clooney 51 carried through their score of 4 from the first round, and they set off at a flying pace, taking the forward strides. They kept all the fences up, but shaved 6 seconds off Zanotelli’s time to take the lead so far, putting enormous pressure on the shoulders of those yet to jump.
Pieter Devos (BEL) and Claire Z had a spring in their stride but the second part of the Czech House double fell, dropping them to a score of 8. There was further heartache as the final Czech Flag plank tumbled too - putting them out of the running with an overall total of 12.
There was disappointment for compatriot Niels Bruynseels (BEL) and Gancia de Muze, after they took out the LGCT oxer and then the final element of the Longines triple to finish on 16.
Marcus Ehning (GER) and Cornado NRW entered the arena to a roaring applause. They knew only a fast clear could put them ahead of Fuchs, but Ehning stuck to his own game plan, prioritising jumping clear. They did just that but had to settle behind Fuchs on time - almost four seconds adrift.
Darragh Kenny (IRL) and Balou du Reventon started with their 1 time fault. The stallion jumped his heart out for the Irishman and they too opted for a steady approach in an effort to keep all the poles up. They pulled it off, collecting a further time fault, but shooting to the top of the leaderboard with their score of 2 faults.
First of those on a zero score, Dani G. Waldman (ISR) would take on the challenge with Caspar 213. They too looked to be going for a steady clear, but the duo hung in the air a touch too long at the Czech Equestrian Team oxer, bringing the fence down. Another fault at the Charles Bridge plank and 1 for time would see them out of the running on 9 faults.
Daniel Deusser (GER) and Scuderia 1918 Tobago Z, the compact chestnut stallion, powered around the arena. But the final element of the Longines triple fell - 4 faults on his score and behind on the time.
Penultimate rider to go Julien Epaillard (FRA) cantered out with Virtuose Champeix, the Flying Frenchman notoriously one of the fastest men on the circuit. Epaillard kept a steady rhythm throughout the first part of the course, but moved up a gear after they had the Czech Equestrian Team oxer down. But their efforts came undone at the Charles Bridge plank, and were cemented as the final fence fell too, dropping them out of the running.
Final rider to go Ben Maher (GBR) had all the pressure on his shoulders, however he was sitting on arguably one of the best show jumpers in the sport - Explosion W. They survived a lucky rub of the Czech House double. Maher kept the tempo steady, giving Explosion time to the fences and the crowd held their breath as they approached the final line.
And they were flawless. The crowd were on their feet as they landed from the final fence to seal the win and take the LGCT Super Grand Prix title.
Prague will witness one final day of spectacular show jumping, as the conclusion to a thrilling GCL Super Cup will unfold under the lights of the O2 arena.