Ben Maher Produces the X-Factor at Olympia


Great Britain's Ben Maher produced a stunning performance from the nine-year-old Tripple X to win the seventh leg of the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2011/2012 series at Olympia in London, Great Britain this evening.  In yet another of this season's super-exciting showdowns, the 28 year old rider effortlessly surpassed the seemingly impossible target set by three-time Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping champion Marcus Ehning from Germany in an 11-horse jump-off against the clock.

And, in a truly international line-up, Ireland's Dermott Lennon slotted into third ahead of America's Laura Kraut, while reigning European champion Rolf-Goran Bengtsson from Sweden finished fifth and Spain's Manuel Anon filled sixth spot.  "It's the biggest win of my career, and the perfect end to a roller-coaster year" said Maher who was additionally pleased because he bred the winning horse himself.  "Some people breed hundreds of horses each year, and I breed just three, so I know I'm really lucky to not only ride, but to have bred one as good as this!" he pointed out.

The Grand Hall at Olympia is always a challenging venue, with the buzz of the crowd creating an electrified atmosphere and the relatively narrow confines of the arena placing extra pressure on horses and riders.  And Bob Ellis, the man who will design the courses for next summer's London Olympic Games, tested them truly this afternoon, with a course that required their full attention.

Too Lenient
Initially it seemed he might have been a little too lenient, as a foot-perfect tour of the 13-fence first-round track by the pathfinders, 19-year-old Spaniard Manuel Anon and his lovely 10-year-old mare Rackel Chavannaise, was followed by three more in quick succession.  But as the class settled down, it became quite clear that it would take only the best of the best to earn a place in the decider.  ""I thought the course was big when we walked it - the first three fences were sited in unusual positions, but it was fair and not crazy" commented Ehning afterwards.  The double at fence four, the triple combination at eight and the penultimate oxer at 12 all proved influential, while the vertical at fence 11 demanded real respect.  Like so many of the obstacles on the tricky track, it came up quickly off a corner, and both horses and riders need quick thinking and good reflexes to make it clear to the end of the track.

There were some notable absentees from the jump-off, including The Netherlands' Gerco Schroder who lowered two fences on his tour with Eurocommerce New Orleans, Ireland's on-form Billy Twomey whose mare, Tinka's Serenade, fell victim to the vertical three from home and Britain's Nick Skelton whose round with the promising eight-year-old Big Star unravelled with a mistake at the triple-bar at fence nine.

With 11 world-class partnerships, including four from the host nation, through to the race against time however, the stage was set for a great jump-off which went right down to the wire.

Set the Pace
Anon set the pace with a single error at the first element of the double, now the fourth fence from home.  The turn to this one would prove crucial in the final analysis, as Bob the Course-Builder tempted riders to gallop down to the previous oxer before turning sharp-right.  Belgium's Ludo Philippaerts followed with an eight-fault result with Kassini Jack who lowered both the second-last and last, so it was Ireland's Dermott Lennon, a man in flying form right now, who set the first standard with a quick but careful clear from Hallmark Elite in 42.43 seconds.  "With my horse, you need to ride him in a good rhythm and I was fairly early to go - I was glad I went in before Marcus (Ehning) and Ben (Maher) though, because otherwise I might have gone completely mad!", said the 2002 World Champion.

Britain's Robert Whitaker was next to go, but his chances disappeared when the 10-year-old USA Today clipped the FEI vertical, now third on the track.  And Laura Kraut's speedy effort with her Olympic team gold medal winning ride, Cedric, was hampered by a mistake at the double.  Well up on time coming down to the previous oxer, the American turned extremely tight on landing and, although her brave little grey gave it everything he had, he lost his momentum over the first element of the double and hit the second part for four faults in the fast time of 41.02 seconds.

Ehning showed however that there was still some considerable room for improvement when shaving almost two seconds off that with a superb run from the 12-year-old mare Sabrina whom he steered like a cruise missile to break the beam in 39.05 seconds.  Britain's Guy Williams missed his strike at the third with Titus, and when Sweden's Rolf-Goran Bengtsson tried to angle the oxer before the double he paid the price as Ninja La Silla brought down the whole fence when his rider caught the upright with his leg.

A Little To Far
With only three left to go, it seemed Ehning had stretched the rest a little too far, and his colleague Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum was no threat when lowering the FEI vertical, although her lovely eight-year-old Bella Donna was one of the most spectacular performers of the afternoon.  Now only two of the home runners stood between Ehning and victory, and Maher's intentions didn't seem likely to upset the German.

"I planned to just do what I could do and see what happened" said the Englishman - but it all came up just right for him.  The big, bold Tripple X never looked under any pressure as he soared over the oxer before turning to the double.  "I took a small chance there and he reached it very well" the rider said.  Coming down to the penultimate vertical Maher seemed almost too cautious, but such is the natural speed of his big horse that they were well up on the clock and they raced across the line in 38.71 seconds to shatter Ehning's target-time. And when his British team-mate, Laura Renwick, hit the very first fence, Maher had the win in the bag.

Very Special
"Tripple X is a very special and talented horse - he makes it all really easy" he said afterwards  "He's a pleasure to ride, and he always fights for me which is what you need at this level of the sport" he added.  The British rider has had mixed fortunes this season and this horse never really enjoyed a good sequence of shows.  "After the European Championships in Madrid I gave him a break for six weeks.  I started him again in the World Cup qualifier at Lyon but we didn't make the cut there, and then we didn't get to jump in Verona - but finally we got a chance to show what we could do today and it's great to produce the win in front of the home crowd!" he pointed out.

At Olympia this week the British have made something of a statement in both Dressage and Jumping.  They mean business ahead of next year's Olympic Games on their home turf in London.  And Maher is now more convinced than ever that Tripple X is the horse that will take him there.  He has nurtured this stallion from the outset - "I broke him, I put the saddle on him for the first time and I gave him his first jump - we've had our moments over the last nine years and I often wondered how he would turn out.  He has had to move up a gear this season because he was really my only top horse, but he's shown today what he can do", he said.  And he did it with both class and ease.....

For further information on the seventh leg of the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping Western European League 2011/2012 at Olympia, London go to www.olympiahorseshow.com or contact Press Officer Jo Peck at Email jopeck@hpower.co.uk or Tel +441753.  The next leg takes place at Mechelen, Belgium on 30 December and for details of the Belgian fixture go to website http://www.jumping-mechelen.com/nl/home/ or contact Press Officer Edith de Reys, Email edith.dereys@skynet.be or Tel +32 475 659 281.

Result: 1, Tripple X (Ben Maher) GBR 0/0 38.71; 2, Sabrina (Marcus Ehning) GER 0/0 39.05; 3, Hallmark Elite (Dermott Lennon) IRL 0/0 42.43; 4, Cedric (Laura Kraut) USA 04 41.02; 5, Ninja la Silla (Rolf-Goran Bengtsson) SWE 0/4 41.49; 6, Rackel Chavannaise (Manuel Anon) ESP 0/4 41.51; 7, USA Today (Robert Whitaker) GBR 0/4 41.54; 8, Bella Donna (Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum) GER 0/4 41.61; 9, Titus (Guy Williams) GBR 0/4 43.24; 10, Kassini Jac (Ludo Philippaerts) BEL 0/8 40.48; 11, Oz de Breve (Laura Renwick) GBR 0/8 40.86.

Full results here

Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2011/2012 Western European League – Standings after Round 7 at Olympia, London (GBR):
1.    Rolf-Goran Bengtsson SWE  - 71
2.    Steve Guerdat SUI - 51
3.    Nick Skelton GBR  -  48
4.    Scott Brash GBR -   43
5.    Patrice Delaveau FRA -  42
6.    Denis Lynch IRL  -   42
7.    Emilie Martinsen DEN  -  41
8.    Pius Schwizer SUI   -  40
9.    Kevin Staut FRA   -  36
10.  Ludger Beerbaum GER   -  30
11.  Dermott Lennon IRL   -  30
12.  Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum GER  - 28
13.  Marco Kutscher GER  -  27
14.  Maikel van der Vleuten NED  -  26
15.  Luciana Diniz POR -  26
16.  Harrie Smolders NED  -   24
17.  Malin Baryard-Johnsson SWE  -  23
18.  Philipp Weishaupt GER  -  22

Facts and Figures:
34 starters from 14 nations.
11 from Great Britain.
11 horse-and-rider combinations went through to second-round jump-off against the clock.
4 of those 11 were British.
The two eight-year-olds - Bella Donna (Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum GER) and Billy Angelo (William Funnell GBR) - were the youngest horses in the competition.
These were exactly half the age of the two oldest horses in the class - the 16 year olds Casino (John Whitaker GBR) and Ninja La Silla (Rolf-Goran Bengtsson SWE).
The British leg of the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping series at Olympia has brought the 2011/2012 season to the half-way stage.
The next leg takes place at Mechelen in Belgium on 30 December.

Quotes:
Marcus Ehning, talking about his successes during the show at Olympia this week - "England seems to suit me!"
Course designer Bob Ellis - "it wouldn't really have mattered how big I built the track today because these riders would have jumped anything!"
Ben Maher - "It's been an emotional year for me, but this is the perfect end to it!"
Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum, talking before the jump-off  - "This is the third World Cup show for Bella Donna - I'm very excited about her.  Speed is not her forte and she is still only at the learning stagesm but hopefully we will finish somewhere near the top!"

Photo Caption:  Great Britain’s Ben Maher and Tripple X on their way to victory in the Rolex FEI World Cup™ Jumping 2011/2012 qualifier at Olympia in London today.  Photo: FEI/Kit Houghton.

Audio Link: Ben Maher talks about his winning performance http://www.lloydbell.co.uk/access/client_zone/Maher_rolex.mp3




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