Team Olympic gold medallist, Benjamin “Ben” Maher won the first major jumping competition at the CHIO in Aachen. The 30-year-old British rider steered the eleven-year-old mare Cella to victory in the Warsteiner Prize, the Prize of Europe, after finishing first in the jump-off. Together with the Belgian warmblood, which belongs to Jane Clark, Maher reached the finish line of the 400-metre long jump-off course in 44.07 seconds.
Of the 52 show-jumpers in the first round, 20 reached the jump-off, which indicates that the course designer, Frank Rothenberger, is obviously saving the really difficult tasks for later on this week. “The course isn’t the most difficult, but certainly not too easy either. That is a sign of the high quality in Aachen,” commented Dennis Peiler, DOKR and FN Sport Director. The German equestrian sport official would of course have preferred a further victory by one of the German representatives (Patrick Stühlmeyer and Hansi Dreher have already collected winning rosettes). “I am keeping my fingers crossed for our wild young riders,” said Peiler before the final round and referred to the top performance of the German young jumping talents group. Five of the aspiring riders competed in the first round. Three of the U25 riders – Katrin Eckermann, Jan Wernke und David Will – reached the jump-off; unfortunately, the young talents were not able to reach the top rankings in the jump-off. The best German rider was Christian Ahlmann, who came eleventh with his top horse, Taloubet Z, followed closely by Katrin Eckermann in twelfth place with Firth of Lorne.
Narrowly pipped at the post, Harrie Smolders, the Dutch rider crossed the finish line second on Exquis Walnut de Muze in a time of 45.74 seconds. The French rider, Pénélope Leprevost, jumped clear in 45.88 seconds with her horse Nayana, which meant rank three. Nine riders in total finished the jump-off without picking up any faults.
“Cella is a fantastic horse. She is very fast. Her strength lies in the long distances between the jumps. The course was very favourable for us today,” said Maher. His recipe for success? “I saw that a lot of riders picked up faults at the wall just before the finish line, so I made sure I took a straight line over the Rolex oxer so that the distance to the wall was just right,” was how the winner described his course tactics.
Maher himself described his current situation as “very comfortable”. The young British rider is pleased to have a second top horse, Cella (Cento/Chin Chin), in addition to his Olympic ride, Triple X. “That means I have the perfect line-up for the individual competitions.” He is currently on the road to success with Cella, who he has only been riding since the end of last year. Just two weeks ago, he won the London leg of the Global Champions Tour with her and she also won the most prize-money at the Grand Prix in Palm Beach, Florida in February. He explained that the mare is extremely self-motivated. “I am more of a passenger than a rider on her,” reported Maher.
Incidentally, it is Ben Maher’s debut at the CHIO in Aachen. The man from the British island was fascinated by the traditional equestrian sport show immediately. “I have never seen so many people watching show-jumping on a Wednesday before,” the rider, who came ninth at the Olympic Games, said in amazement. 32,700 people travelled to the Soers, earlier in the morning 7,500 children had accepted the invitation of the Aachen-Laurensberger Rennverein to attend the traditional CHIO School Children’s Day.
Official Website: www.chioaachen.de