Ben Maher got his Rolex World Cup final off to a great start by finishing eighth in the opening speed leg on Thursday night.

Robin Hood made the course in the compact arena at the Thomas and Mack, Las Vegas, look easier than most and although he rubbed the very last — where oblique stripes on the rails offered an optical illusion — his clear round was never in real danger.

Title holder Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum and Shutterfly went peerlessly into the lead, ahead of World Cup debutante Christina Liebherr of Switzerland on LB No Mercy and McLain Ward on Sapphire for the USA.

Though going towards the end of the competition, Meredith stuck to her original plan despite seeing just one other rider out of 44 attempt the same options.

“I could do this when maybe others can’t — my horse is old for a show jumper at 16, and I just know him so well,” she added.

Listen to Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum’s interview

Michael Whitaker and Portofino, in their 21st and sixth finals respectively, stand 18th, the only pair to lower the first element of a double.

Lying fourth are Rich Fellers and Flexible. Though runners-up at the final in Gothenburg last year, their presence here results from two remarkable acts of sportsmanship. After a late start in the West Coast league, Flexible was not qualified, so two riders ahead of him – Will Simpson and Jill Humphrey – stood aside, believing Rich was better equipped to win in Las Vegas.

America has been disadvantaged in recent decades as their qualifying rounds take place in spacious outdoor arenas. Indoor finals – particularly at the Thomas and Mack where there are rarely 10 strides between any fence – therefore come as a shock.

To remedy this, West Coast qualifiers were staged in tents, and it seems to have helped as the entire US contingent gave a good account of themselves.

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