Ben Maher ended the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida in style, with a win in the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix.
The Grand Prix formed the showjumping finale to the 12-week international competition, held each year in Florida.
Forty riders came forward for the class, with seven reaching the jump-off. But in the second round, only Ben – riding Jane Clark’s mare Sarena – jumped clear, with McLain Ward (HH Azur) in second and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum (Fibonacci 17) in third as the fastest of the four-faulters.
“I have had Serena for just over a year now, and it has been a tough ride. She was a horse that was bought to jump these big classes, but she was young when we got her, and it really took a year to get to know her and for her to get to know me,” said Ben about the ten-year-old Selle Francais mare.
“It has been a lot of hard work and patience from Jane Clark, who supported me the whole way through last year, because I had a lot of disappointing rounds. I told her to stick with me, and we worked hard with the whole team at home. This is the first class she has won, but she picked the right time and I hope there will be many more.”
Ben had to fight his competitive urges by going for a steady double clear, as Sarena is still a work in progress when it comes to jump-offs.
“When I try to go quick, she starts to run backwards a little bit and it is not always a nice feeling. She has to get confident and get used to running and jumping,” Ben explained. “The jump-off really played into my hands. Had McLain’s turn pulled off, and had Meredith left the jumps up, I do not know if I could have actually been quick enough to beat them, so I decided to play it a little safe and leave the jumps up. That is not my nature normally, but I think I played a smart game tonight and put the pressure on. Fortunately for me, it worked out. It could have gone either way.”
The 12-week show attracts many top international riders, with a total of 10 FEI world ranking classes.
Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam earned the leading rider award for the 12-week series overall. “It shows consistency over the whole circuit. It is not just one horse. Between my oldest horse and my youngest horse, they all played a part in it,” said Shane.