AS it has done many times this season, the result in the Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final came down to a battle between Britain’s Ben Maher and Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann. On this occasion, the Olympic champion reversed the result from the GCT Prague Super Grand Prix a few weeks’ ago and came out on top with his fabulous gelding Explosion W.
In a unique and prestigious class, 10 of the world’s very best show jumping athletes battled it out in the headline class on day two of CHI Geneva. Contested over two rounds, the Gérard Lachat and Louis Konickx-designed course would be the ultimate test of horsemanship, requiring a perfect balance of speed, precision and harmony between horse and rider.
With two of the world’s top 10 missing, Steve Guerdat (13th) and Kevin Staut (15th) were given their tickets to ride. Just four managed to produce a clear over the first round: they were Maher, von Eckermann, Jérôme Guery and Daniel Deusser.
All 10 returned for the second round over a shortened course of nine fences, not before legendary Canadian rider Eric Lamaze retired his adored 18-year-old mare Fine Lady 5 in front of a packed crowd. Lamaze and Fine Lady won the Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final in 2016, so the setting for a final goodbye was very fitting for the Rio bronze medal-winner.
An assured round by Von Eckermann and King Edward took the lead in the second round with a clear in 49.57 seconds. Deusser was out of contention when his mount, Killer Queen VDM, refused the second fence and eventually finished with five faults.
Maher was second last into the arena with Explosion W and posted a blistering clear in 49.57 seconds to go straight into pole position. All eyes were then on Belgium’s Jérôme Guery to cause a late upset; however, a fence down and a slower time saw him slot into third with Quel Homme de Hus, meaning Maher would be crowned 2021’s Rolex IJRC Top 10 Final champion, rounding off a truly memorable year.
In true Top 10 Final history, Maher’s groom, Irishman Cormac Kenny, got to stand on top of the podium to hold the trophy aloft. Maher praised his owners and team afterwards, saying: “My team plays a huge part. My owners are here to watch this evening, and without them I wouldn’t be able to be riding Explosion W over the last few years. My groom Cormac has been with me since he was 16 years old, so he’s grown up together with me, and it’s very special for me to see him take big moments like this, and it wouldn’t be possible without him.”