Great Britain’s Scott Brash and Hello Forever wowed a sell-out crowd with a phenomenal home win in the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of London. Brash and his London 2012 Olympic Games teammate Ben Maher took the top spots almost five years to the day since they won Olympic gold in the team jumping.
“God Save The Queen” rang out over the jubilant crowd at the Royal Hospital Chelsea, as it was a British one-two in a breathtaking display of showjumping, featuring nine out of the top 10 in the world. Ireland’s Denis Lynch finished third with GCT series leader Harrie Smolders in fourth.
“[Hello Forever is] an incredible horse—you have to be on your toes when riding him, but he’s an incredible horse,” Brash said. “He jumps when you get there, he’s fast and he’s athletic. He’s got everything and he gave his all today. It was a very fast jump-off, but thankfully Hello Forever pricked his ears and went for it. I love winning in front of a home crowd and this has been amazing venue.”
With a €300,000 prize up grabs, the track was going to be a big ask of horse and rider. The technical London-themed course—including obstacles featuring Big Ben, the London Underground and Horseguards—was built to a maximum height of 1.60-meter, but it was a race against time to not only go clear but to secure a coveted spot in the jump-off.
The tricky treble combination caused problems in the first round for Ramzy Hamad Al Duhami, Danielle Goldstein and Darragh Kenny. However, it proved to be a very jumpable course as a total of 11 pairs cleared the first round and went through to the jump-off.
There was disappointment for national hero John Whitaker on his 62nd Birthday. Despite starting off well on the 9-year old Cassinis Chaplin, the stallion put in a sudden refusal, unseating Whitaker over the fence. Spectators were relieved as it was announced Whitaker was speaking with the medics and was taken to hospital for medical checks.
Determined to deliver a strong round, Brash rode into the ring with the firecracker Hello Forever, watched by owners Lord and Lady Harris and Lord and Lady Kirkham. To the delight of the crowd, who held their breath throughout the round, the popular pair delivered a foot-perfect clear, ensuring Great Britain would be in the jump-off. The crowd were doubly hopeful for a home win after Ben Maher quickly followed with a textbook round to take prime position in the hotly contested jump-off.
First up in the jump-off were pathfinders Christian Kukuk and grey stallion Colestus. They were the first to attempt a hairpin turn from the second fence into the double. They flew over the Longines planks, the final fence, to go clear in a time of 42.84 seconds.
Overall ranking leader Smolders and Emerald N.O.P. were next and the charismatic chestnut stallion gave an excited buck as they galloped to the start. The pair flew around the course, breaking the 40-second barrier to go into the lead on 39.48 seconds—it would be a tough time to beat, but was only good enough for fourth place in the end.
Martin Fuchs set off at a blinding pace as he entered the ring on his grey gelding Clooney 51, signaling his intent to go after the time. But the young Swiss star wasn’t as economical around the corners meaning he was not quick enough to catch Smolders and finished in fifth overall.
Maikel van der Vleuten and VDL Groep Verdi TN made a costly mistake as he flattened over the fourth fence to finish on a disappointing 4 faults. Similarly Bertram Allen had a fence down as Hector van d’Abdijhoeve fought for his head and had the second part of the double down followed by Fence 4 to finish on 8 faults.
After his success in an earlier class at London, spectators knew that Nicola Philippaerts of Belgium would go for the win. He urged 9-year old Chilli Willi over the fences as he galloped to the last, but 40.70 seconds was only good enough for sixth.
Fresh off his victory with Miami Glory in the Global Champions League, Denis Lynch of Ireland went for it. All Star 5 flew around the fences kicking up his heels. The crowd could not contain their excitement as he headed to the last and a loud cheer went up as he set the time to beat of 39.85 seconds.
The crowd went wild as the penultimate rider Brash cantered into the ring on Hello Forever. There was an audible gasp as he successfully completed a handbrake turn into Fence 5, but Hello Forever galloped around the remainder of the course to go into first on a heart-pounding time of 38.62 seconds.
British flags were already flying in the packed grandstands as Maher entered the ring to a huge cheer. He went for it and there was a hair’s breadth between him and Brash as he galloped to the last on MTF Madame X. Horse and rider cleared the fence to a roar from the crowd in a time of 38.86 seconds—a mere fractions of a second slower than Brash but good enough for a British 1-2.
“With Madame this was my second show on the horse,” Maher said. “I don’t know what more I could have done in the jump-off. I said to Scott that maybe if I ate a little less last night then maybe I could have been quicker! Scott is one of the fastest riders in the world, and if I was going to be beaten by anybody, then for sure a home win is always good for the sport in our country. Like Harrie said, I can be biased, because we’re here in London but it’s always great to ride here and see the support in London. I think it will only grow here, in the next few years. It’s an amazing venue, everything is good for the horses and the riders—I really enjoyed it, and again, just congratulations to Scott.”
“It’s been a great day and I am absolutely delighted,” Brash said. “I must say Ben did have me sweating there at the end! I saw a few horses went eight strides [Fence 1 to 2], but I didn’t feel it suited my horse. So, I was already going to go nine [between the first two fences], and knew I was going to be a bit behind. So, I thought I needed a good turn, and kept it as fast as I could all the way home. I managed to see a good forward distance, and luckily Forever pricked his ears and really went for it.”
There are only three stages left on the 15-event Championship race as the Tour heads to Valkenswaard in the Netherlands. Harrie Smolders remains at the top of the leaderboard on 263 points edging away from Alberto Zorzi in second on 245 points and Christian Ahlmann in third on 220 points.