God save the Queen rang out over the jubilant crowd at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, as it was a British one-two in a breathtaking display of showjumping, featuring 9 out of the top 10 in the world. Ireland’s Denis Lynch finished third with Tour leader Harrie Smolders in fourth.
With a €300,000 prize up grabs, the track was going to be a big ask of horse and rider. The technical London-themed course – including obstacles featuring Big Ben, the London Underground and Horseguards – was built to a maximum height of 1.60m, but it was a race against time to not only go clear but to secure a coveted spot in the jump-off against a field that featured nine of the top ten riders in the world.
There was disappointment for national hero John Whitaker on his 62nd Birthday. Despite starting off well on the nine-year old Cassinis Chaplin, the stallion put in a sudden refusal, unseating John over the fence. Spectators were relieved as it was announced John was speaking with the medics and was taken to hospital for medical checks.
The crowd went wild as the penultimate rider Scott Brash cantered into the ring on Hello Forever for the jump off. There was an audible gasp as he successfully completed a handbrake turn into fence five, but Hello Forever galloped around the remainder of the course to go into first on a heart-pounding time of 38.62s.
British flags were already flying in the packed grandstands as as Ben Maher entered the ring to a huge cheer. He went for it and there was a hair’s breadth between him and Brash as he galloped to the last on MTF Madame X. Horse and rider cleared the fence to a roar from the crowd in a time of 38.86s – a mere 0.4s slower than Brash but good enough for a British 1-2.
Scott Brash said:
“It’s been a great day and I am absolutely delighted. It was a very fast jump-off, but thankfully Hello Forever pricked his ears and went for it. He is an incredible horse and he really did his best for me; you have to be on your toes when you’re riding him, but he’s fast and athletic. I love winning in front of a home crowd and this has been amazing venue.”
“I’m very happy with the day. Obviously, our thoughts are all with John, but it sounds like its good news for him going forward. I think it was even more important then, to try and get a British win and it’s great to get a one and two in the home leg. [Hello Forever is] an incredible horse, you have to be on your toes when riding him, but he’s an incredible horse. He jumps when you get there, he’s fast and he’s athletic. He’s got everything and yeah he gave his all today. I must say Ben did have me sweating there at the end! I saw a few horses went 8 strides one to two, but I didn’t feel it suited my horse. So, I was already going to go 9 one to two, and knew I was going to be a bit behind. So, I thought I needed a good turn, and kept it as fast as I could all the way home. I managed to see a good forward distance, and luckily Forever pricked his ears and really went for it.”
Ben Maher, 2nd place:
“I had a good start to the day with Don Vito, then decided to make the change. With Madame this was my second show on the horse. It hasn’t been working for me using the same horse in the GP, so I made the change and my horse jumped incredibly today. I don’t know what more I could have done in the jump-off.
I said to Scott that maybe if I ate a little less last night then maybe I could have been quicker! Scott is one of the fastest riders in the world, and if I was going to be beaten by anybody, then for sure a home win is always good for the sport in our country. Like Harrie said, I can be biased, because we’re here in London but it’s always great to ride here and see the support in London.
I think it will only grow here, in the next few years. It’s an amazing venue, everything is good for the horses and the riders – I really enjoyed it, and again, just congratulations to Scott.”
Denis Lynch, 3rd place:
“I’ve got two great horses so expectations are quite high for things to go well. I’m delighted with both horses. It’s not the quickest horse, we’re all aware of that, it went my way. I added less stride maybe here and there. The horse that came after me had a quicker horse across the fence. But I’m delighted with my horse, and on to the next one.”
Harrie Smolders, LGCT Ranking leader:
“I think in the first place we have to compliment the organisers of the show, for the first time in this setting, it’s beautiful and we saw an incredible level of show jumping. We had a number of clears, the horses like to be in this ring. They don’t feel pressure. With 9 out of the 10 best riders here in the world, you are going to get sport like this and it’s great.”