This weekend’s competition at the state-of-the-art Al Shaqab equestrian complex in the Persian Gulf country was the 16th stop of the 2018 season for the concurrent Tour and League, with an inaugural League play-offs and Super Grand Prix set for Prague, Czech Republic in December. Previous stops on the eight-month circuit were Mexico City, Miami Beach, Shanghai, Madrid, Hamburg, St. Tropez, Cannes, Cascais/Estoril, Monaco, Paris, Chantilly, Berlin, London, Valkenswaard and Rome.
Throughout it all, 35-year-old Maher – a Team gold medallist on home soil at the 2012 London Olympic Games – has ridden in a forceful manner with his mounts Explosion and the appropriately-named Winning Good, racking up previous Grand Prix victories in Madrid, St-Tropez and Rome, as well as strong finishes in London, Chantilly, Monaco, Paris, Shanghai and Miami Beach.
With total prize winnings of €818,855 and a total of 284.00 points prior to Doha, this weekend has for several weeks been guaranteed to be a coronation for Maher on the Tour, with his closest rival Alberto Zorzi of Italy starting the competition with 237.00 points. But just driving home their exceptional performance this year, the World No.12 Maher and Explosion raced to yet another victory and €123,750 in prize money in the Longines Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Doha, finishing with a clear jump-off round in 35.50 seconds.
Commenting a little earlier on the GCL win and title for his London Knights squad, Maher said: “It has been an incredible season. Explosion W has been a great horse all season, I really trust him…. It is fantastic with the London Knights win. It has been a strong team spirit from the start and we used all our horses and riders.” In Doha, Maher and Explosion’s teammates were Belgium’s Nicola Philippaerts and his mount H&M Chilli Willi, with both combinations riding two clear rounds to edge out runners-up Miami Celtics and third-place Rome Gladiators. For the overall 2018 season, the Knights topped Valkenswaard United and the Celtics, with the full final standings here.
And while Maher had already secured the Tour title before this weekend’s event, the Doha Grand Prix still had the potential to shake up the overall Individual standings, including regarding Maher’s eventual podium mates. As organisers had noted in the run-up to the competition, “Only 28 points separate current second-place rider Alberto Zorzi (237) and eighth-placed Christian Ahlmann of Germany (209) setting up a high-high-powered contest among seven elite riders fighting for the highest spot possible on the overall ranking.” In the end, it would be the Netherlands’ Harrie Smolders (second) and Philippaerts who would make it onto the overall podium, with Italy’s Zorzi slipping to fourth. Maher’s compatriot Scott Brash finished seventh for this season but is eligible to go to Prague as a Grand Prix winner (in Mexico City and London).
Speaking about the Doha event at a press conference in Qatar this week, LGCT Founder Jan Tops stated that, “It’s very important for us to be in this place [Qatar], in this part of the world. I think we have a great relationship built through the years and all the riders come to Qatar to compete in this magnificent arena.” Commenting on the cutting-edge, horseshoe-shaped Al Shaqab site, Tops added: “From the stabling to the arena, everything is horse-minded.”