Ben Maher's love story with Rome continued as the Briton claimed the overall lead on the Longines Global Champions Tour, for the world's top show jumpers with his second straight victory in the Italian capital on Saturday.
"Rome has been a lucky show for me, in the last two years," Maher told LGCT television, after coming out on top in a four-rider jump-off. "Explosion loves the arena here, loves the Italian crowd. It was big Grand Prix today, not so many clear rounds, and I think it was an exciting class to be in."
Maher won his second event of the season with a clear round in 38.76 seconds. Marlon Modolo Zanotelli and VDL Edgar M of Brazil finished second, in 39.20 seconds, while Germany's Ludger Beerbaum and Cool Feeling were third, in 39.39 seconds.
Thirty-one riders failed to reach the jump-off, held over a technical course set by Uliano Vezzani in the compact, sandy arena of the scenic Stadio dei Marmi, which is surrounded by 59 classical marble statues depicting different sports.
Modolo Zanotelli was delighted with his second-place finish, which handed him a ticket to the lucrative LGCT Super Grand Prix, held in Prague at the end of the season.
"It's a huge thing," the Brazilian said. "I knew going into the jump-off that Ben and Ludger were already qualified. I watched the (LGCT) Super Grand Prix (last year) and it was an exciting class."
Beerbaum, 56, is one of the most experienced competitors in the world of showjumping. He was full of praise for the 36-year-old Maher, who won the overall LGCT last year.
"If I see how Ben has been performing over the last month to two years, it's not luck or chance he keeps on winning," said Beerbaum, a four-time Olympic champion. "To be just six-tenths of a second behind him, it fills me with confidence for my next Grand Prix on this horse. Ben deserved to win."
Maher back in the lead
After 16 of 18 legs, Maher sits atop the leaderboard with 277 points. Belgian's Pieter Devos, the previous series leader, is in second place with 266 points, and Germany's Daniel Deusser is third, with 259 points.
Maher said he was "very happy" to have taken the overall lead in the LGCT rankings.
"Right now, I just enjoy the Grand Prix, it's an amazing feeling and the overall championship is important," said Maher, who won in London last month. "But very happy with my horse, and really enjoying this today."
Head-to-head photos after the Grand Prix showed Maher beat Zanotelli from the start, steering the big-striding Explosion W round the course in a controlled but steady pace as dusk fell.
Global Champions League
Earlier on Saturday, Gerco Schroder of the Netherlands and Marco Kutscher of Germany helped the Prague Lions to their first victory in the two-day Global Champions League (GCL).
The pair had a total of five penalties over four rounds, which was three fewer than Mark McAuley of Ireland and Spain's Eduardo Alvarez Aznar of Madrid in Motion. The Hamburg Giants, with Holland's Bart Bles and France's Simon Delestre, finished in third place, also with eight penalties, but eight seconds slower than Madrid in Motion.
"I'm very happy with my horses, both jumped fantastic yesterday and today," Schroder said. "My teammate also did a fantastic job so I'm very happy."
"It's our first time winning," said Kutscher. " I'm very happy for the team and everything worked out really well."
Although the London Knights, with Maher and British rider Emily Moffitt, finished in sixth place with 17 penalties, it was enough to regain the lead on the overall GCL leaderboard but only by a whisker.
The Knights now lead the team league with 288 points, just one clear of Saint Tropez Pirates, and 11 points ahead of Shanghai Swans. The Knights and Pirates had been the joint GCL leaders before Rome.
The next leg of the regular 18-leg Longines Global Champions Tour will be staged in Ramatuelle/Saint Tropez, on the French Riviera, on September 12-14.