Show jumper Ben Maher aims to dazzle in Hong Kong Masters
Olympic gold medallist happy to be back and hungry for success with his mount Tripple X
A dish of diced chicken and cashew nuts with steamed rice was Ben Maher's first taste of Hong Kong as soon as he landed in town to take part in the US$1 million Longines Hong Kong Masters on Tuesday after a 24-hour flight from Miami.
"It brought back memories of the last time I was here, in 2008, for the Olympics. I will never forget my first impressions - due to the time difference I went for a walk. It was midnight but this place was so alive and bright. I had never seen anything like it before," Maher said.
The dazzling lights of Hong Kong were the only bright feature in Maher's stay four years ago as he ended 20th in the individual show jumping competition at the Beijing Olympics and Great Britain failed to break into the medals in the team event too.
"We were unlucky that time around. I left Hong Kong slightly disappointed with my performance but it did augur well for the future," Maher, the world No24, recounted. All that has changed now - for the first time in 60 years, Great Britain won a team gold in equestrian at the London Olympics last summer with Maher, Nick Skelton, Peter Charles and Scott Brash, who is also in town this week, jumping to glory in front of cheering crowds at Greenwich Park.
Now Maher is hungry for more success and has targeted tomorrow's climax at the AsiaWorld-Expo, the Longines Grand Prix, as the first step on the climb back up the world rankings.
"Winning on your home turf, the first time British equestrian won a gold medal in 60 years, was just amazing. Nobody believed we could do it, so it was an even better story," said 30-year-old Maher.
"The crowds, some of the biggest I have ever experienced, helped us. It was great for our country and great for our sport."
At the Hong Kong Masters, Maher will be primarily riding Tripple X, his mount at the London Olympics, with Aristo as a back-up. He believes the trusty Tripple X holds the key to success and a surge back up the world standings.
"I was pretty high up the world list before but dropped down to 24 as I didn't have enough horses to ride," said Maher.
"With the Olympic Games last year, we saved Tripple X for a time so that he would be fresh for London. So my goal this year is to definitely move up the ranking and with Tripple X around, and having added five more horses to my team, I'm very confident."
Bringing his best horse to Hong Kong goes a long way to add weight to Maher's declaration that this new concept - the Masters Grand Slam Indoor of which Hong Kong is the first leg, followed by New York (October) and Paris (December) - was a huge shot in the arm for show jumping.
"This is one of the biggest competitions in the world, and that meant I should bring my best horse," said Maher.