| THE Spanish phase of the Global Champions Tour kicked off on Friday at the Oliva Nova Equestrian Centre, with the world's 40 highest-ranking showjumpers facing Olympic-sized fences and stiff competition for prize money reaching 94,000 euros.
Britain and Ireland dominated the podium in Saturday's Grand Prix, a gruelling test for horses and riders alike with fences of 1.6 metres (5'3”) and a number of challenging elements where a snap decision could make the difference between pocketing nearly a six-figure prize or going home empty-handed.
Relative newcomer Ben Maher for the UK, on his bay gelding Triple X, went clear in the jump-off with an unprecedented time of 41.35 seconds, beating his compatriot and arguably one of his country's longest-standing and most talented riders, Michael Whittaker, on his chestnut gelding, Viking.
Denis Lynch, for Ireland, netted the best time of the competition, with 40.91 seconds, but four fault in the third and final round, and at the last fence, immediately halved what would have been his winnings.
Brazil's Álvaro de Miranda and France's Penelope Leprévost took fourth and fifth place respectively following an eight-fault total.
Ben Maher, who won the Banco Sabadell silver tray and a top-of-the-rang watch from Longines – both sponsors – said his gelding had been jumping particularly well, having benefited from a long rest from the showjumping circuit in February.
Michael Whittaker, a showjumping legend of more than 20 years' standing, produced a hair-raising clear round on a horse he described as 'not easy' but with great potential.
More classes take place on Sunday.
Photo 1: Michael Whittaker on Viking came second in the Grand Prix
Photo 2: Penelope Leprévost on Nayana, in fifth place
Photo 3: Álvaro Miranda for Brazil on Rahmannshof's Bogeno, in fourth place