Magical win for Maher and Jazz at spectacular London leg

For a very long time the London International Horse Show has been one of the most popular events on the European indoor circuit, and today almost 10,000 spectators nearly lifted the roof off the ExCel arena in the London (GBR) Docklands when Britain’s Ben Maher won the eighth leg of the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ 2023/2024 Western European League with Enjeu de Grisien.

A year ago his compatriot and friend, Scott Brash, stood top of the podium at the same venue after winning with Hello Jefferson. But today the 2012 Olympic team gold medallist Brash had to settle for runner-up spot with his 14-year-old gelding when reigning individual Olympic champion Maher, and the young horse he calls Jazz, snatched victory from his grasp with a spectacular last-to-go run.

And if the crowd were screaming with excitement during the 11-horse jump-off against the clock, none were screaming louder than Irishman Daniel Coyle’s grandmother Ita who didn’t hold back when the Derry-born, Canada-based rider put it up to the final two contenders with a brilliant performance from his 13-year-old mare, Legacy, that finally left them in third place.

All the ingredients were there for another epic leg of the series that never fails to delight. And it was 2017 European champion Peder Fredricson from Sweden who filled fourth place ahead of 2023 European bronze medallist Julien Epaillard from France in fifth while Britain’s Matthew Sampson slotted into sixth.

Plenty to do

Plenty to do

Course designer, Brazil’s Guilherme Jorge, gave them plenty to do over the 13-fence first-round track, but from the startlist of riders from 16 nations there were still eight countries in contention second time out.

Ireland’s Conor Swail led the way in the decider with Casturano who clipped the vertical at fence nine, three from home, but speed-master Epaillard followed with the first real target when clear in 39.20 seconds with Donatello d’Auge.

Portugal’s Duarte Deabra and the handsome grey Dourados 2 hit the penultimate oxer and Brazil’s Pedro Junqueira Muylaert and Quax 76 lowered the first of the two remaining elements of the triple combination which, now the third obstacle on the course, was a pivotal point on the new track. 

Then Max Kuhner returned a clear in 39.57 with EIC Up Too Jacco Blue to slot in behind Epaillard before Britain’s Sampson and Ebolensky immediately nudged the Austrian pair down the order when almost a quarter of a second quicker. But the excitement was only really starting.

Tail on fire

Next in, Coyle who turned 29 years old earlier this month, set off like his tail was on fire, and taking a stride out between the second element of the double and the following water-tray vertical, he raced home with his brilliant mare in 37.99 seconds to change the whole shape of the competition. 

Italy’s Lorenzo de Luca and Cappuccino 194 lost their chance when turning too tight to the first element of the double, but Fredricson and Hansson WL produced a very tidy clear in 38.42 seconds which slotted them in behind Coyle. However the last two would have the final say.

Brash and Jefferson are always lightning-fast, and when they stopped the clock on 37.80 seconds it seemed all but impossible that could be beaten. Maher however was having none of it. Despite the fact that he was riding a horse that is just nine years old he could feel the time was right to ask for what he needed, and Enjeu de Grisien shaved more than a half-second off his rival’s time to clinch it with a foot-perfect run that drove his home crowd into a frenzy. Just 0.62 seconds separated him from Brash, while Coyle was just 0.19 seconds further off the mark for third place.

Different animal

“This time of year for some reason my mare just seems to become a different animal, and if I can ride her correctly she usually jumps like she did today. I really wish sometimes she didn’t jump so high, you lose a bit of speed that way! Obviously to beat these guys you really have to nail it and there were a few places I maybe could have turned back tighter, but after I’d gone I felt like - if it wins great, and if it doesn’t it’s not meant to be! There wasn’t a whole lot in it, but these guys are brilliant and I’m sure I’ll get them again!” Coyle said, knowing that he had been involved in a momentous battle against the very best.

Brash could have been forgiven for thinking he was about to make it a back-to-back London double before Maher set off for a second time. But he insisted he wasn’t too disappointed with his second-place finish.

“I was actually very happy because Jefferson has been my main contender for the last two years really, he’s been having to do the big shows himself. I thought he jumped fantastic in Calgary (Spruce Meadows 5* in September) but after that I gave him a break and it was the worst thing I could have done because he lost a bit of muscle and it took time to get him back going.

"But in Geneva last week he jumped good, maybe not as good as he can, but here he felt right back on form so I’m very delighted that he’s back to where he can be again!”

the 38-year-old Scotsman pointed out.

Very special

Even happier however was Maher who described today’s win as “very special for me”. That’s partly because he had a tough start to 2023 that included being out of action for four months with a shoulder injury.

“It’s been a difficult year for us as a family and a team with a few things that have gone on behind the scenes. It’s nice to get to the end of the year in one sense, but it’s nice to finish on a highlight like this and I really enjoy when Sophie my wife is here and our son Cooper”, said the 30-year-old rider. 

He already enjoyed a Western European League win in Verona (ITA) in November partnering another of his mighty string of horses, Dallas Vegas Batilly, and in Madrid (ESP) three weeks ago he finished second with today’s winning ride Enjeu de Grisien.

“I’ve brought him along carefully since he was seven years old, he had four months off at the beginning of the year when I wasn’t able to ride and today was one of those jump-offs where I didn’t have to be too quick over the first three jumps. But then I used his stride really to go, and in the end you don’t have that opportunity (to win) every week or every year. It’s about taking the opportunities when they are there, and today he was ready!”, he explained.

One less stride

He didn’t see Brash’s round,

"but I know he’s quick, and I knew roughly where I had to be on the course, and that I could do one less stride to the water tray (8). So I just tried to stay a little bit focused and calm and to ride the round that I knew I could ride with my horse, and fortunately it was quick enough today!” he added. 

Maher congratulated Coyle and Brash on their placings in today’s competition, reflecting on the fact that you win some, and you lose some. “When you ride out of the ring you cross paths (with other riders), and it’s tough when you ride a round like Scott did and then someone goes in and beats you, but it has been the other way around many times before! 

“That crowd though!”, he added, “and this class, it’s one that everyone wants to win because it’s a great time of year, everybody’s happy, everybody is enjoying it and today that was as good sport as there’s been in a very long time!”, he added.

He has now taken over pole position on the Western European League table ahead of fellow-countryman Harry Charles in second and Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann in third going into the ninth of the 14 legs of the series in Mechelen (BEL) in two weeks time.


FEI Press Release by L.Parker