The world-class combination of Ben Maher (GBR) and Explosion W took Rome by storm winning their second LGCT Grand Prix in a row in the Eternal City.
Victory propelled the British Olympic gold medallist into the lead in the overall LGCT Championship ranking in the final sprint to the 2019 Finals in New York later this month.
Ben is only 11 points ahead of Pieter Devos (BEL) and with Daniel Deusser (GER) breathing down their necks the global circuit is set for a blistering climax.
Thrilled Ben said:
Rome has been a lucky show for me in the last two years and Explosion loves the arena here and with the Italian crowd. It was a big Grand Prix today with not many clear rounds and it was an exciting class to be in. I am very happy and now and I will just enjoy the Grand Prix win and the overall Championship is important.”
Today’s LGCT Grand Prix result also saw Marlon Monolo Zanotelli (BRA) and VDL Edgar M finish second to secure a golden ticket to the LGCT Super Grand Prix at the GC Playoffs in the O2 Arena in Prague in November.
Marlon spoke of his delight at qualifying for the LGCT Super GP:
It’s a huge thing – I knew going into the jump off that Ben and Ludger we already qualified. I watched the [LGCT[ Super Grand Prix (last year) and it was an exciting class, right up to the last minute. The public were amazing in Prague, as were all the facilities.”
German maestro Ludger Beerbaum and Cool Feeling delivered two superlative clear rounds in the Stadio Dei Marmi amphitheatre finishing third on the podium. He said:
If I see how Ben has been performing over the last month to two years, it’s not luck or chance he keeps on winning. To be just six tenths of a second behind him it fills me with confidence for my next Grand Prix on this horse. Ben deserved to win. For Uliano to have designed a course like this over two rounds, it is the same as Ben and Explosion, it is exceptional.”
With classic Italian opera filling the arena, the three top finishers took their well-deserved lap of honour after a scintillating afternoon of top sport. Fans had packed the stands and the stone steps around the show ground as the world’s top riders squared up for the 16th leg of the series.
Uliano Vezzani was on a mission to test the best of the best in the 85m x 50m sand arena and there was zero margin for error. The course featured a tricky Liverpool with delicate poles, a formidable Longines triple combination, a delicate GC plank and a double combination that would end up dictating the shape of the competition.
Pathfinder Wilm Vermeir (BEL) and King Kong d’Avifauna picked up faults at a string of verticals and overs and decided to retire in a sign of the serious challenge set by the course designer.
Denis Lynch (IRE) and GC Chopin’s Bushi delivered one of the big surprises with an uncharacteristic refusal at the Roman coin oxer followed by another resulting in elimination. There were also retirements including Harry Charles (GBR) and Borsato, Marco Kutscher (GER) and Castelan, Bertram Allen (IRE) and GK Casper.
Italian hearts fluttered with hope as Alberto Zorzi (ITA) and the striking black mare Ulane de Coquerie powered round the course, but they came unstuck in the final part of the triple combination pushing him out of contention.
It was to be Marlon Monolo Zanotelli (BRA) and the big-striding VDL Edgar M to deliver the first clear round. The Brazilian skilfully piloted the 10-year-old gelding avoiding the elephant traps on distances and finishing faultless.
He was soon followed by Ben Maher (GBR) and Explosion W with the intelligent chestnut superstar gelding poetry in motion leading the pair clear and set for a second win in a row in Rome.
Pieter Devos (BEL) needed to go clear to ensure he kept hold of his lead in the overall LGCT ranking but had an agonising rail at the final fence leaving the door open for Ben.
Multiple combinations including Christian Kukuk (GER) and Limonchello NT, Daniel Deusser (GER) and Killer Queen VDM and Julien Epaillard (FRA) and Virtuose Champeix, fell victim to the tricky double combination which was preceded by a difficult oxer which also caught out more than a few show jumping stars.
Cue the legend Ludger Beerbaum (GER) who piloted the 11-year-old bay Cool Feeling to a clear round and into the jump off making the supremely testing course look easy. Before the curtain went down on the first round Italian spirits soared as Luca Marziani (ITA) and Tokyo du Soleil polished off a super clear round as fans raised the roof in celebration.
First in Marlon Monolo Zanotelli (BRA) was fast over the Colosseum fence and executed a brilliant tight turn to the Centurion vertical – jumping a superb tactical round. The pair sailed over the final Longines fence clear and stopped the clock in 39.20 as the time to beat.
Ben Maher (GBR) could see Marlon had left an opening and he took advantage of the extraordinary speed and precision of Explosion W. The combination were up on the time early on. They were already quick with six strides to the Roman coin oxer and powered through the Longines double combination with its significant oxer before an emphatic gallop to the final fence and the finish line into the lead in 38.76.
It was not over as Ludger Beerbaum and Cool Feeling came into the ring bristling with determination. Exhibiting the skill and experience of decades at the top, Ludger ensured a superb turn to the Centurion fence and took six strides to the Roman coin oxer keeping up the momentum over the double. But they were not fast enough at the finish, crossing the line clear in 39.39.
Luca Marziani (ITA) and Tokyo du Soleil gave it their all, inspired by a rousing reception from the crowd but it was a high pressure stage and they had faults at the Roman coin oxer and the double combination – finishing on 12 faults.
After sunset and under coloured lights the arena came alive with entertainment by the Lancieri di Montebello and also children taking part in a special exhibition by the charity Villa Buon Respiro.
Longines Global Champions Tour moves to the French Riviera next week for the 17th leg of the circuit at Ramatuelle / Saint-Tropez.