“I tried to ride the jump-off that I could do, not one that I couldn’t do,” Ben Maher said.
Sure, his time on Urico was quick. But it certainly wasn’t unbeatable. Kent Farrington was more than 2 seconds faster on Blue Angel, but he pulled a rail. Beezie Madden was fractions of a second faster, but also picked up 4 faults.
“It looked like one of those jump-offs where rails were falling and it maybe wouldn't get too quick,” Maher said. “I knew that Beezie would be faster than me probably whatever I did, so I rode the round that I could and fortunately it was just quicker than Laura [Kraut] today and good enough to win. Urico is an incredibly fast horse. He kind of anticipates turns before you’re even there.”
Eleven horses returned for the jump-off, which took a twisting track around the ring, with some daring turns. In fact, three riders were faster than Maher—Farrington, Madden and Yann Candele—but they left a rail on the ground.
Kraut rode a tidy, but not crazy, jump-off to claim second on Nouvelle. She was thrilled with the result since Nouvelle had the majority of 2013 off to recover from a broken pedal bone in her foot. “The first fences she jumped were here in January, so today is her very first grand prix and I am really pleased with how she performed,” Kraut said. “She has matured and I don’t think the time of rest seemed to hurt her too much because she has come back sort of where she was ready to be before she got hurt.”
Kraut claimed that her goal was to finish in the top six in the class. “Ben beat me by a lot; he beat me by 3 seconds,” she said. “It wasn't like he just beat me. I am really proud of her. I did the inside turns, the one back on the vertical, and she handled that well. I am just thrilled. Her owners are here and they have been long-time supporters of me. Their last grand prix horse was Anthem, so I know they are so excited.”
Farrington’s time on the incredibly consistent winner Blue Angel left the rest of the horses in the dust almost 2 seconds faster than anyone else. But he got a bit unlucky to the last jump and punched the rail out of the way. Madden had the same fence down after her daring and fast ride. She galloped Cortes C down to a combination in the jump-off without so much as the tiniest of tugs.
After Maher had gone, the crown oohed and ahhed with each ride, gasping when rails fell and cheering each rider enthusiastically as they raced to catch him.
But at the end of the day, it was Maher leading the victory gallop for the fourth time this season at the FTI Winter Equestrian Festival. His previous wins came aboard Cella, but he decided to bring Urico out for the afternoon class. “It has been incredible here so far for me. I think Jane Clark's horses love being at home [at Clark’s off-showgrounds farm]. They get to go in the paddock and be real horses and come to the ring here fresh,” Maher said.
“Things seem to be going my way right now and I know how quickly things can change around so I am enjoying it as much as I can while it is happening,” he continued.
Is Kraut a bit cranky that Maher is dominating the grand prix results at WEF? Not a bit. “Listen, he rides great, he has super horses and he deserves to win the classes that he has won,” Kraut said. “I would like to have a shot to try to beat him at some point. At this level you appreciate the superior riding and horses. You can’t really begrudge anyone these victories. He and Scott [Brash] are so impressive. It is going to raise the level of riding here. To have No. 1 and 2 in the world is just a great opportunity for WEF and for all of the riders here.”
Urico and Maher haven’t had an easy path to this win. It’s taken some doing for Maher to get Urico in winning form. Read the March 17 print issue of The Chronicle of the Horse to find out what Maher changed in Urico’s life to bring him back to the top.
Read all about more action from the weekend in coverage of the $75,000 Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup and the Hollow Creek Farm Young Rider/Junior/Children’s Nations Cups.