‘It’s been a while since I’ve run to the last fence like that!’ Ben Maher rides a flyer and a Brit wins 10 classes

  • The Olympic champion Ben Maher, who celebrates his 40th birthday today (30 January), is in flying form already this year and earned his third big class win of WEF (Winter Equestrian Festival) on Saturday, this time riding top new mare Dallas Vegas Batilly.

    There was also grand prix success closer to home for Ireland’s Mikey Pender, and 16-year-old Maisy Williams continues to impress while James Smith racked up an outstanding tally of 10 international victories in one week. Here is H&H’s round-up of this week’s international winners, plus showjumping results.

    ‘It’s been a while since I’ve run to the last fence like that in a jump-off’

    Olympic champion Ben Maher landed Saturday’s NetJets CSI4* grand prix at the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF) with top new mare Dallas Vegas Batilly, owned by Charlotte Rossetter and Pamela Wright.

    Ben and the 10-year-old Selle Francais mare came home quickest in a 14-way jump-off to beat Ireland’s Shane Sweetnam riding the big-striding Namaste Van Het Eyckeveld and US rider Kent Farrington on rising star Toulayna.

    “She’s taken some time to get used to me and my system,” said Ben, who first teamed up with the “sensitive” mare four months ago, taking over from Frenchman Nicolas Delmotte. “She’s jumped some great rounds and was clear in the grand prix in Geneva. But every time we come to the jump-off; we’ve had problems with the steering.

    “I’ve learned I have to ask her to do things, not tell her.”

    “We’ve only had her for four months and it’s been a bit of a trial and error process, but she’s an incredible horse and finally we managed to figure out the jump-off this evening when the time counts,” explained Ben. “It’s always top competition here, amazing atmosphere, it was packed this evening, and it was a difficult enough course for this early in the year.

    “I honestly tried not to watch what the others were doing [in the jump-off] and I don’t have so much experience with Dallas at the minute, sometimes when I’ve turned too short she’s got opinionated on me, but everything came off right tonight and it gives me a lot of confidence for the future. I know she has a huge stride so fortunately I knew I could get there [to the final fence] – it was quite long and it’s been a while since I’ve been running to the last fence like that in a jump-off! But it was good fun and it couldn’t be a better start to the year.”

    Ben’s groom Derren Lake won the $500 grooms’ award, presented by Double H Farm.

    Ireland’s Bertram Allen was also a winner at Wellington International, topping a 1.45m speed class on the Billy Mexico daughter Emmylou, for owners Ballywalter Stables and Noel Delahunty Connaught Bloodstock.

    “I have a very competitive horse and she gave a massive effort,” said Bertram. “She’s just fantastic and I knew that if I rode well that I could have a chance today.”

    Pender’s glory and a 10-class winning streak

    Irish rider Mikey Pender and HHS Calais landed the CSI3* grand prix on week one of the Villamoura Atlantic Tour in Portugal, just beating Great Britain’s Olli Fletcher and Hello William after 13 combinations jumped off for the €13,150 top prize. The previous day Mikey had also won the 1.40m jump-off class with the eight-year-old HHS Los Angeles.

    British showjumper James Smith enjoyed a phenomenal winning streak of 10 international classes in the opening week, winning everything from young horse classes to a world ranking competition with the Renwicks’ great Arkuga.

    “We had a good week!” said James. “I have a few of Laura Renwick’s horses while she’s on her way back. I rode Michelob for them for the first time and he won the six-year-old classes every day, then seven-year-old Dame Diamant Z won two.”

    James also made his debut with new ride Juno Rose 23, a 2022 HOYS finalist for previous rider Emma Crawford.

    “This was my first show with her and she won every day – three out of three – she’s very nice,” James told H&H.

    “John Renwick is known for liking to win, so we were fairly going for it from the start of the tour! But they’re a lovely bunch of horses so they make my job much easier. It was a good week – it’ll be hard to keep it going but we’ll try!”

    Among this week’s other big three-star winners were Chloe Aston (Diatendra Von Rocherrath Z) and Guy Williams on the 18-year-old Rouge De Ravel. Guy’s 16-year-old daughter Maisy topped Friday’s 1.30m speed class on new ride Piggle van de Bucxtale, having also won a young horse class with Gold Rush.

    Julien Epaillard and Donatello d’Auge, winners of the World Cup qualifier in Amsterdam

    Credit: Arnd Bronkhorst

    Epaillard claims a World Cup hat-trick

    Speedy French rider Julien Epaillard enjoyed a remarkable winning streak through 2022 and has started 2023 in the same vein, posting his third victory of the World Cup season in Amsterdam.

    He and the 10-year-old mare Donatello D’Auge soared home quicker than runners-up 23-year-old Swiss rider Edouard Schmitz and Quno, with Brazilian Yuri Mansur and the great Vitiki finishing an emotional third after an eight-strong jump-off.

    Julien, ranked number three in the world, now heads the Western European League table ahead of the World Cup Final in USA in April.

    “It’s my first five-star win with Donatello D’Auge, so it’s really special for the family and the team,” he said.

    Edouard Schmitz, who is half the age of the winner, quipped: “Next time I’ll beat the old man!” And Yuri Mansur said of Vitiki, who has returned from a broken leg incurred in a fall in Aachen. “We had such a long and hard story, but the way he’s jumping this season is unbelievable. This horse is always emotional for me.”

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