Ben Maher takes St Tropez Global Champions Tour title

(CNN) – Ben Maher continued his successful Longines Global Champions Tour campaign by winning Saturday’s Grand Prix of St Tropez.

It was the 25-year-old’s second victory of the season having taken top honors in Madrid last month.

In Spain, the Briton rode Explosion W to victory but, with that horse resting back home, Maher put his faith in another nine-year-old gelding, Winning Good.

“I’m absolutely delighted,” he said. “My horse, Winning Good, is only nine-years-old so he’s young for this level. He gave me everything today. He was a bit tired in the jump-off which really tested his ability. I’m very lucky right now with the horses I have to ride. They are young and have bright futures.”

The event in the South of France was making its debut on the Longines Global Champions Tour.

Organized by the daughter of the late Greek shipping magnet Aristotle Onnasis, the Longines Athina Onassis Horse Show was established in 2014 and the red carpet was rolled out as VIPs and beautifully dressed guests flocked to the sixth event of the 2018 Global Champions season.

Just a short stroll from the turquoise waters of the famous Pampelonne Beach, under blue skies the crowd were treated to an exciting finale to the show. Of the 34 who qualified for the €300,000 Grand Prix, seven riders made it through to the jump-off against the clock.

First into the sand arena was the European Champion and Olympic Silver Medalist, Peder Fredricson. Riding Hasson WL he put the pressure on the remaining riders with a smooth clear.

Following the Swedish rider, poles fell for American Lillie Keenan and Belgium’s Olivier Philippaerts and Niels Bruynseels before Australia’s Edwina Tops-Alexander, on board her LGCT Miami Beach-winning horse, California, put in a faster clear to move into pole position.

Maher, the penultimate rider to enter the ring, would need to take a risk if he was to better her time. Turning tightly he took a stride out into the double of fences across the center of the arena, and his bravery was rewarded as he bettered the Australian’s time by over a second.

The final rider, Carlos Lopez, from Colombia, split the pair to finish second to record a career best finish in an LGCT Grand Prix.

With the top five riders in the overall LGCT rankings all competing in St Tropez, the class had the potential to shake up the overall season rankings.

Leader, Scott Brash, earlier clocked up 12 penalties on his gelding, Hello Mr President, so failed to qualify for the Grand Prix.

His absence means he drops to third place with both Tops-Alexander and Maher moving above him. Australia’s Tops-Alexander leads with 154 points, 11 clear of Maher on 143 with nine events remaining in 2018.

Earlier in the day, Shanghai Swans recorded a comfortable victory in the Global Champions League team competition. Germany’s Daniel Deusser and Brazil’s Pedro Veniss were the only duo to record four clear rounds across the two-day team event.

Italian course designer Uliano Vetzzani took no prisoners in building Saturday’s final round. With most of the fences up to the 1m 55cm maximum height and in the small purpose-built arena, poles fell as the very best were tested.

Of the 62 starters, only 12 riders jumped clear and the enthusiastic crowd were treated to a master class from the winning team.

Veniss, riding his powerful chestnut stallion Quabri de L’Isle, was the first of the pair to make the course look easy. His clear round gave German Olympic bronze medalist, Deusser, an eight fault, or two pole, buffer ahead of his round.

A buffer that wasn’t needed as he, like Viness, recorded a smooth clear on Tobago Z to claim the top spot on the podium.

Deusser said he didn’t feel any nerves as he entered the arena as the last rider to go. “With Pedro jumping clear, the pressure was off me,” he said. “Nevertheless I was very confident in my horse after he jumped so well in the first round yesterday. The fences were big enough for the size of the arena and they came very fast. I can see why the course caused so much trouble.”

The top 16-ranked teams this season will qualify for the inaugural Global Champions Play Offs in Prague in December, which has a record prize pot of $10m, including $3m for the winning team.

Veniss added: “Our goal for this season is to qualify for Prague so we will keep fighting for that. My horse was amazing today and it’s a pleasure to ride alongside Daniel.”

League leaders, London Knights, moved up from fifth place overnight to claim second. The pair of Maher and Belgium’s Olivier Philippaerts finished on eight faults, or two poles down, with with home favourite Roger-Yves Bost and Colombia’s Carlos Lopez in third for Chantilly Pegasus.

Having won in both Shanghai and Madrid, London Knights second-place finish sees them extend their lead at the top of the table after the sixth leg of the championship. Reigning league champions, Valkenswaard United, remain in second, while the win in St Tropez for Shangahi Swans moves them up to third place on the overall league leaderboard.

The Longines Global Champions Tour and Global Champions League stay on the French Rivera with the next event taking place in Cannes next weekend.

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