Unstoppable and untouchable Ben Maher at Doha

10 November 2018

Unstoppable and untouchable Ben Maher  (GBR) crowned a season of a lifetime winning the LGCT Grand Prix final  in Doha on the superstar young stallion Explosion W and was crowned the  new 2018 Champion of Champions.

Riding the crest of a wave the British  rider was also the main anchor of the dominant London Knights who won  the final of the GCL team championship on the same day.

It was a phenomenal end to 2018 for Ben  with no less than five LGCT Grand Prix wins and after today’s triumph  the British Olympic gold medallist almost lost for words: “I can’t quite  take it in to be honest. I have such a good bond with Explosion W.” 

He will be the one to watch at the new  €12 million GC Playoffs in Prague in December where he will compete in  the LGCT Super Grand Prix and the GCL Super Cup.

At the press conference last year’s LGCT  Champion and current World No1 Harrie Smolders (NED) said of Ben: “He  was out of our league.”

Her Highness Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al  Missned presented the winning medal and His Excellency Sheikh Joaan Bin  Hamad Al Thani was also in attendance as the British national anthem  rang out across the vast floodlit arena of AL SHAQAB in Doha. There were  amazing scenes as The Father Emir of Qatar Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani,  who had the vision to create the magnificent AL SHAQAB equestrian  faciilty, toured the arena where families had enjoyed a programme of  top-level sport.

In the LGCT Championship ranking Ben  Maher finished 43 points ahead of last year’s Champion Harrie Smolders  and London Knights team mate Nicola Philippaerts (BEL) came in third on  the podium after a hugely successful season. 

Ben’s incredible performance during the  season secured the Championship at the last leg in Rome netting almost  €1 million in prize money in the individual alone. And this weekend he  swept the board with wins in all of the major classes. But there was a  fiercely competitive 7-way battle to reach the LGCT Championship podium  in Doha today. Alberto Zorzi (ITA), Harrie Smolders (NED), Daniel  Deusser (GER), Scott Brash (GBR), Nicola Philippaerts (BEL), Edwina  Tops-Alexander (AUS) and Christian Ahlmann (GER) were all in contention.

And riders were going all out to win the  final qualifying place in the LGCT Super Grand Prix at the Playoffs in  Prague in December. 

Spectators filled the grandstands, with  the ringside cafes and traditional Qatari cultural tent bustling with  excitement in anticipation of the final LGCT Grand Prix of the 2018  season. A shopping village and Kids’ Activity area kept families  entertained, with children enjoying pony rides, bouncy castles and  fun-filled activities in the beautiful indoor Riding Academy.

Uliano Vezzani’s course was a tough test,  fitting for the 2018 finale featuring the world’s top riders. The  flowing course featured an imposing Longines treble which caught out  many top combinations, and an option of five or six strides to the last  oxer gave riders plenty to think about.

Last year’s winner Bassem Hassan Mohammed  (QAT) had the unenviable task of going first with Gunder - the hopes of  local spectators resting on his shoulders. But it wasn’t to be their  day, as the duo took out three fences and went out of contention. There  was plenty early drama, the Longines treble claiming a few victims  including Piergiorgio Bucci (ITA) and Driandria who had a last minute  stop at the final element. A retirement from Leopold van Asten (NED) and  VDL Groep Beauty and Scott Brash (GBR) and Hello Shelby would prove  that Vezzani’s course another serious test. 

Alberto Zorzi (ITA) and Contanga 3 set  off at a bouncing pace, but fence 7, the gappy vertical set towards the  in-gate, would tumble. Pushing towards the second half of the course to  better their time, the penultimate plank fell.

Peder Fredricson (SWE) on Hansson WL gave  a masterclass of a performance to deliver the first clear. He was  swiftly followed by Edwina Tops-Alexander (AUS) and California, the  Australian rider delightedly praising her bay mare after their  foot-perfect performance.

There was an unlucky pole for Maikel van  der Vleuten (NED), as the GC back rail fell after an exuberant Verdi TN  flew around the course in dramatic style. And the intimidating Longines  treble took out the likes of David Will (GER) with Teavanata II C Z,  with others such as Bertram Allen (IRL) with Molly Malone V, and Nicola  Philippaerts (BEL) and H&M Chilli Willi falling foul of the GC oxer.  Daniel Deusser (GER) and Calisto Blue also failed to make the jump off  along with Jos Verlooy (BEL) and Igor who were one of the pairings that  had a pole at the Arabian coffee pot fence.


Harrie Smolders (NED) and the powerful  Don VHP Z were a clear round machine once more securing their place in  the jump off and were swiftly followed by Laura Kraut (USA) on Zeremonie  going clear in determined fashion. Pieter Devos (BEL) looked formidable  on Espoir jumping an impressive clear round.


There was disappointment for Ludger  Beerbaum (GER) on Casello, but delight for Lorenzo de Luca (ITA) and the  nine year old grey mare Irenice Horta pulling a flawless round out of  the bag. He would be joined by Shane Breen (IRL) with Golden Hawk,  Athina Onassis (GRE) with MHS Going Global. And Ben Maher and the  athletic Explosion W duly delivered a clear round to ensure they were in  the nine-strong jump off.


Peder Fredrcison set a blistering pace on  Hansson WL coming home in 36.34 on the big-striding bay stallion. There  was disappointment for Shane Breen and Golden Hawk finishing on 12  faults after mistakes in the stride before the combination. And both  Pieter Devos and Athina Onassis ended on four faults.


Edwina Tops-Alexander and California  produced another superb clear round but their time of 37.63 was not  quick enough. Peder has landed at the GC fence at 30 seconds and Lorenzo  de Luca and Irenice Horta looked close but stopped the clock behind in  37.19.


Harrie Smolders and Don VHP Z were on top  form again and matching Peder’s time but just fell short to finish in  36.94 taking the third spot on the podium.


It all came down to the seemingly  untouchable final pairing of Ben Maher and Explosion W. They ate up the  ground at a great pace and took every opportunity to turn tight before  the final gallop where they stopped the clock in a winning 35.50 pushing  Peder in to second.


To Lorenzo’s delight he learned he had  won the last coveted place in the LGCT Super Grand Prix at the Playoffs  in Prague next month.


The 2018 season now finishes, but all  eyes will be on the GC Playoffs in Prague, taking place from Decemeber  13th - 16th at the O2 Arena.

Nicola Philippaerts, 3rd place: "I  think this season has been amazing - I was fortunate to have two really  good horses to compete in the Tour and it just worked out well. I think  it’s very hard to win already one LGCT Grand Prix in the Global  Champions Tour and I was fortunate to, so I think I’m honoured to win  two. These are the best shows in the world and hopefully I can be back  next year.


"I think we had a great [GCL] team  and for sure if you want to try to be as best as possible for the team,  you go to the Grand Prix and you do as good as possible there as well  and everything worked out this year. We are a good team and good horses  and hopefully we can have a good year again next year.


Harrie Smolders, 2nd place: "I’m  very pleased with my two horses and they went great again this year -  they performed very well and I think this year it was not only enough to  jump clear rounds - you see Ben, he won four Grand Prix so its not only  about going clear its also about being really fast. I think that’s a  big achievement even when we focused the whole season on the Global this  year - but Ben was out of our league. Of course, you are a sportsman  and I think we had a similar season that we had last year and again my  horses were very good, but he was just better."


Ben Maher, 2018 LGCT Champion: “I’ve  been lucky to have many great horses in my career so far, and I’ve been  doing the Longines Global Champions Tour for many years now but have  never been in a position to contend for the Championship. I don’t know  if I’ll have another season like this - I did nothing different this  year, but fortunately for me everything went right and I had a great  team of horses. But it’s also to my team around me, they get us here  every week - there’s a lot of people to thank behind the scenes.  Explosion has been in our programme for a while but Shanghai was my  first big show on him. We had quite a surprise result there and then  built on that. The horses give you such confidence, but I think many  riders in today’s course changed their mind - I think I even asked  Harrie at one point what his thoughts were! I trust  Explosion, and that’s the difference - the quality of horse that he is  and the luck I’m having at the moment. 


“You believe you can do anything  riding a horse like Explosion. He’s just such a fun horse to be around,  he enjoys his work - he enjoys his job. He could probably come out now  and be happy to jump again. Fortunately it’s gone my way this year.  Prague will be new territory - I haven’t jumped him indoors yet, we’ll  give him a break and then produce him for the Playoffs. But we’ll just  enjoy this one right now and let it sink in.”

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