Ben Maher and Sarena triumphed at the 2016 Winter Festival in Florida on Saturday (2 April) winning the $500,000 Rolex Grand Prix CSI 5*.
The class is the first win for Jane Clark’s 10-year-old Selle Francais mare Sarena, who has been ridden by Ben for the past year.
There were 40 starters from 13 countries jumping for the top prize under a packed house at Palm Beach International Equestrian Centre (PBIEC).
Ben and Serena topped the seven-horse jump-off with the only double clear, with McLain Ward from the USA and HH Azur coming second as the fastest four-faulter, and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum from Germany aboard Fibonacci 17 in third place.
“The course was tough, but the jump-off really played into my hands,” said Ben.
“Had McLain’s turn pulled off, and 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 safe and leave the jumps up.
“That is not my nature normally,” he admitted, “but I think I played a smart game tonight and put the pressure on Todd [Minikus, who finished fourth]. Fortunately for me, it worked out.”
Ben said it was the Sarena’s first time under the lights, but “she did not seem to be affected by them.”
McLain said he thought Azur’s pole was “a little bit unlucky” but with Ben and Meredith behind him he “was trying to put the knife into them.”
As well as the $165,000 first prize, Ben was presented with the Dennis D. Dammerman perpetual trophy, given in honour of the founder of Wellington Equestrian Partners.
Sarena’s groom Tracey Edge received the groom’s initiative award, presented by Mark Bellissimo, managing partner of Wellington Equestrian Partners, “to reward her dedication and hard work as an integral member of the winning team”.
“It is exciting to see such great sport here and to end on a very high note. Everyone was so spectacular in their performances this evening, “ said Mr Bellisimo.