Ben Maher makes his mark with winning double at Wellington International

Monday 04 March 2024

Ben Maher makes his mark with winning double at Wellington International

Ben Maher landed a victory double at the Winter Equestrian Festival at Wellington International, USA, capping a successful week with the $200,000 4* Grand Prix and the International Leading Rider Award.

The first of five from a field of 45 competitors in the JTWG 4* Grand Prix to set the standard in round one over the track designed by Steve Stephens and Nick Granat, Ben commanded the win from the front.  As first to go, he didn’t waste any time with four others to follow and nonetheless, claimed the class with the sole double clear – and the fastest time – on Charlotte Rossetter and Pamela Wright’s 10-year-old Point Break (Action-Breaker x Balou Du Rouet).  The USA’s Coco Fath was the nearest rival, leaving all the fences intact but picking up one time fault on Aventador 5 to take second place.

“This is probably the biggest grand prix he's won,” said Ben of Point Break, a horse he’s had in his string since the stallion's six-year-old year. “It wasn't so long ago he was spooking off every golf cart and I was in the back rings, constantly switching arenas to get the ground work in, but he was always a very talented horse and he's progressed on very nicely.

“His athleticism is what separates him from the other horses.  The way he can bend his body and move his shoulder allows my job to become much easier.  I can ride at the jumps and trust that he can do the job for me.”

Ben claimed back-to-back wins in the WEF Challenge earlier in the week.  Dallas Vegas Batilly scored his win in week seven on this three-month tour, but it was Ginger-Blue who stepped up this week in the $32,000 Adequan 4* WEF Challenge Cup Round 8. 

“It's always special to win any FEI competition, especially here in Wellington; there's a lot of good horse and rider combinations any week,” said Ben. “But, as you see, there's a lot of people that fly in especially for this week, so to start it like this is a confidence boost.”

Sixty-four riders faced the 1.50m course with reigning Olympic champion Ben securing the shortest route to win by 0.94 seconds. He has ridden the 13-year-old Ginger-Blue (Plot Blue x Royal Bravour) for Jane Forbes Clark for more than five years.

“I’ve ridden her since a seven-year-old so we’re pretty experienced together now and she feels amazing.  She jumped one Grand Prix on the grass earlier [on the tour] and she was on incredible form last year. I haven’t used her too much this early in the season and this kind of speed class will give her confidence. ‘Cookie’ is a horse that's better when she's running and jumping.

“I've had her for many years, but this will be her first Nations Cup with me. It's nice to give her the chance here, and she certainly showed in her last few rounds that she's ready for the challenge,” said Ben, who finished on clear and four faults in the Saturday Night Lights feature Nations Cup to take fourth place with the British team.

The accolades didn’t end there. Ben’s groom Kirsty Bond was presented with the $500 Double H Farm Grooms Award following the Grand Prix victory in recognition of her care for Point Break and Ben’s consistent results secured the Martha Jolicouer Leading International Riding Award.

Ben was also on the podium in the $50,000 Hermes National Grand Prix. Eight of the 47 starters contended the jump-off with Ben on Charlotte Rossetter and Pamela Wright’s 15-year-old Exit Remo posting another clear for third, 1.49 seconds off the pace.

“I've got a lot of horses ready to go at this level, so I'm very lucky,” said Ben. “But I've tried to use the horses sparingly. I really try to plan which horse is right for each class.  To finish on a Grand Prix win has topped off a great week.  The strength and depth in my team – both horses and people – it's a great time to be able to ride right now.”


Olli Fletcher claims his first five-star win in Doha

Olli Fletcher scored his first five-star win against some fierce competition on the Longines Global Champions Tour of Doha to make his visit to Qatar a memorable one.

Thirty-six competitors tackled this two-phase competition with Olli using his late draw as twenty-ninth to go to ease BP Pocahontas into the top spot, Alison Walton and Graham Fletcher’s Emilion 10-year-old winning with 0.69 seconds to spare. France’s Simon Delestre proved his nearest rival in second aboard Cayman Jolly Jumper.

Olli also picked up fourth in Saturday’s 5* 1.45 speed on the 12-year-old Hello William, more than four seconds behind the winner, Ireland’s Denis Lynch on the 11-year-old stallion Vistogrand (Fantaland x Mr Visto) – bred and produced in Britain by Carron Nicol.

The legendary John Whitaker has hit an immediate rapport with new ride Arqana De Riverland and claimed second place in the 5* 1.55m speed.  Thirty-seven contended this class with John and Juliette Faligot’s impressive 14-year-old Cornet Obolensky x Diamant De Semilly mare finishing 2.18 seconds behind the winner, The Netherlands’ Jur Vrieling on El Rocco.


Back with a bang!  Holly Smith and Fruselli seize a victory double

Holly Smith and TJ Hall Ltd’s striking chestnut stallion Fruselli made a winning return to international competition with a double victory on the Andalucia tour in Vejer de la Frontera, Spain.

The pair ensured their return to the limelight was no fluke, heading an early 1.45m followed by triumphantly claiming the ClipMyHorse.TV Grand Prix.

Eleven of the original 65 starters found the key to the 13-fence track designed by Rafael Suarez with Holly using her seventh draw to command the lead by 1.02 seconds.

Holly and Fruselli’s last competed internationally almost 12 months ago – winning a 2* 1.45m in Lier, Belgium – and their last national competition was in April 2023, again recording a win at British Showjumping Area 30’s Area Trial at Dallas Burston in Warwickshire.

“I wanted to start him off gently in the two-star classes and then move on up the classes in the next two weeks,” said Holly.

The Zambesi TN x Karandasj 14-year-old started coming back to fitness in November, Holly sensibly starting small at 1.10m and working up to 1.30/1.40m on the national circuit before travelling to Spain. Patience paid off handsomely with the pair starting week four on the Andalucia tour with a win, setting up them up nicely for the final day’s feature 2* Grand Prix.

Twenty-five riders came forward in the 2* Ayuntamiento de Vejer Trophy over a testing 1.45m track with Holly smoothly flying into the top spot by 0.78 seconds. Tabitha Kyle, winner of her first four-star class the previous week, claimed second on the 16-year-old Desterly, another owned by TJ Hall Ltd, while Ben Walker slipped Billy Barlow into fourth.

Guy Williams was another British 2* 1.45m winner, lifting Friday’s Catanambu Trophy on Raoul Ulrich’s Ernie of Greenhill Z. Sixty-four competitors contended this world ranking speed class, but Guy is at his best under pressure and he held off all challenges on the 12-year-old Emerald x Caretino stallion to edge ahead by 0.19 seconds.

The British wins kept coming and Saturday was Emma Stoker’s turn. She headed the 2* 1.45m on Robert Lemieux’s Q Seven, an FRH Quaid x Stakkato 11-year-old she has produced through the grades for the last six years. Thirty-three riders took on this two-phase course with Emma easing ahead by the tiny margin of 0.05 seconds.


James Smith is a runaway winner in Spain

James Smith landed the early Moura Tours 3* 1.45m in Valencia, Spain, with Juno Rose 23. 

Fifty riders tackled the world ranking 12-fence speed track but no-one could match James and the eager Juno Rose.  Angling fences at optimum speed, James guided the 10-year-old Erdento x Nissan Caretano Z mare with a handsome 2.16 seconds in hand over Luxembourg’s known speed specialist Victor Bettendorf riding Simolo De La Roque Z.     


Image: Ben Maher and Point Break. Credit WEF/Sportfot

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