Great Britain’s showjumpers will bid for a unique treble in Barcelona this weekend, spearheaded by a rider at the peak of his powers.
It has been a remarkable 12 months or so for Ben Maher, having been part of Olympic and European Championship gold medal-winning teams, collected an individual European silver and risen to world number one.
Next on his agenda is the Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup final at Barcelona’s Real Club de Polo, where the British quartet – Maher, Scott Brash of Peebles, Michael Whitaker and Will Funnell – are major contenders for a €500,000 top prize.
It is the same British team that swept to European title glory in Denmark last month, a triumph which followed the spectacular London 2012 success of Maher, Brash, Nick Skelton and Peter Charles.
Eighteen countries will contest the Nations Cup final first round today, with the top eight progressing to Sunday’s cash-laden showpiece. Current form suggests a fierce battle involving Britain, France, United States, Holland and Switzerland.
“It has been a case of so far, so good,” Maher said. “We have a good team of horses, great owners and people around us, and it is terrific when everything comes together at the same time.
“To hold Olympic and European titles at the same time has not been done often, so it is a superb achievement. It gives the whole team confidence. But it is going to be difficult this weekend. Finishing among the top eight is the first aim, and then everyone starts on a zero score again on Sunday. There are probably eight teams that can win.
“Some countries are slightly weaker than others in terms of horse-power, but it doesn’t mean the fences will be any smaller. We just have to make sure we are in there for Sunday, and then it is anyone’s day.
“Our horses are fit and in good shape, and we know what we’ve got to do.”
Apart from collecting his European Championship medals, Maher has been a regular victor on the grand prix circuit this year, highlighted by him landing the inaugural London Global Champions’ Tour title and winning Hickstead’s prestigious Longines King George V Gold Cup.
The combined effect was a leap of 18 places to top spot in showjumping’s latest world rankings, having shone with his brilliant new ride, Cella – a horse owned by American Jane Clark, heiress to the Singer sewing machine fortune – and his King George winner, Tripple X III, Maher’s challenger in Barcelona.
“I’m making the most of it while it lasts [world number one],” he added. “I have a good team of horses, and I am able to point horses at the right competitions and not have to use the same one all the time. That is an advantage I have.
“Reaching world number one has been a lifetime’s ambition, and I am enjoying every minute for as long as it lasts.”
For Great Britain team boss Rob Hoekstra, success in Barcelona would continue the remarkable resurgence of top-level showjumping in this country since he took charge in early 2010. But Hoekstra, a master planner and clear thinker, will allow no room for complacency.
“Yes, we have had a really good time the last 12 months, but obviously this weekend it is a new competition and you have to be right up and running from the first round,” he said. “A lot of things could happen in the first round. There are 18 teams, and you have got to finish in the top eight straightaway, but a lot of things could go wrong.
“Our first priority this season was to remain in Europe Division One, which we have done, the second was the European Championships and thirdly was to qualify for the Nations Cup final. We will have a go and see how far we can get.”