Under pressure as the hot favorite in show jumping's richest competition, Ben Maher did what he does best: win.
The all-conquering Briton and his Dutch-bred wonderhorse Explosion W finished their stellar season on a high as they triumphed in the $1.4 million Longines Global Champions Tour (LGCT) Super Grand Prix in Prague.
Staged in the O2 Arena in Prague, the Super Grand Prix is one of the main events of the four-day GC Playoffs, the sport's richest competition with a record $13 million in prize money.
"Magic," Maher told the crowd, when asked what he thought about Explosion W, a feisty 10-year-old Dutch warmblood gelding.
"There are no words that can explain him," said Maher, who sealed his second straight overall LGCT title earlier this year after a dominating season that saw the pair win in New York, London and Rome.
The LGCT Super Grand Prix pitted all 18 individual winners this season against each other.
"This time last year, we had a tough show here, he didn't like the Prague arena here, had a little bit of a problem on the top corner, but he's come back stronger and he proved that he is as good as he is tonight," Maher said.
After going clear in the first round, Maher rode into a packed O2 arena in the second round in the knowledge another error-free ride would hand him victory over Ireland's Darragh Kenny and Balou du Reventon, who had been leading with two time faults over two rounds.
Maher, an Olympic champion at his home London Summer Olympics in 2012, knows all about performing under pressure.
But for a split second, it looked as if Maher had thrown it all away. Approaching the third fence, the big-striding Explosion W touched a pole. It bounced up in the air as the crowd gasped, but didn't fall.
"I took some risk, I didn't go too fast to jump the clear round," said Maher, whose win was applauded by American rock star Bruce Springsteen. "I had some luck over there on the pink one and it stayed up. I knew it would be my day," said the 36-year-old Maher, the only rider to produce two clear rounds.
"I just tried to keep my eye on the job, but I know, when he touches a fence like that, normally, he doesn't touch another fence in the course," said Maher. "I had a little luck, that's what sports is all about."
An emotional Maher also paid tribute to his team.
"Just amazing feeling, to be able to win here, on this horse, and the people that are around me, to make this possible, they all know who they are. It's an amazing feeling towards the end of the year."
GCL Super Cup
The four-day Global Champions Playoffs will end on Sunday with the €6.4 million GCL Super Cup for teams.
Last year, Eduardo Alvarez Aznar of Spain teamed up with Holland's Marc Houtzager and Maikel van der Vleuten to take the inaugural GCL Super Cup for the Madrid in Motion team.
Madrid in Motion will join Paris Panthers, Valkenswaard United, Shanghai Swans, Monaco Aces and Cannes Stars in Sunday's final, which will see the winning team ride away with €3 million in prize money.
Friday's semifinals saw the shock elimination of pre-event favorites London Knights, led by Maher, and the St. Tropez Pirates.
The London Knights had finished the regular season at the top of the leaderboard for the second year running, with €2.3 million in prize money. The Pirates, led by last year's LGCT Super Grand Prix champion Edwina Tops-Alexander of Australia, had finished the regular season in second place, with €1.7 million in earnings.
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