Billy on the Box: Ben's big win in nick of time for Olympics
I'm nothing if not up for a challenge so it was with a degree of thran-ness that I turned my back on Sky’s insistence that Sunday’s football schedule was a Christmas Cracker to find my novelty and silly hats elsewhere — with Clare Balding.
So as Sir Alex, Rio and Roo left Loftus Road wondered why there was a pervading whiff of horse dung hanging in the west London air, we were off to Olympia for the Rolex World Cup showjumping qualifier.
Clare told us this was ‘the equivalent of the Champions League in football’ as a man with a shotgun inserted two cartridges and went looking for Mancini’s mare and Fergie’s foal.
For those of us whose basic knowledge of showjumping was formed by rare sightings on a Wednesday evening on Sportsnight when there was no football to show, it was a relief that people called Whitaker and Smith still seem to be in vogue. Old showjumpers never die, and their rhubarb grows ever higher.
But they’re certainly a lot tougher than footballers. No missing out here with a chipped metatarsal, Clare joined behind the scenes by Tim Stockdale in a brace, a rider who came a cropper recently and broke three vertebrae in his neck, but he hopes to be back by February.
As a pundit he was just what the doctor ordered, entertaining, incisive and, bizarrely, knew what he was talking about, predicting how many riders would qualify (10-12, 11 did) and who would win (Ben Maher, and he did).
Commentator Mike Tucker was at it too, predicting that first rider Manuel Anon would ‘give us a very good start to the competition’ and despite his anonymity the Spaniard sailed clear.
“This horse was reputedly bought for 3.4million euros, that’s probably why it impressed us,” Tucker, a far cry from his days in Grange Hill, continued.
That’s not much, just around the corner someone shelled out £50m on a Spanish carthorse not that long ago.
And continuing on the childish theme, look away now if your sensitivities are squeamish on the politically correct front as Tucker tried to pull a discreet veil over the fact that the first competitor to have a fence down was a Swiss man called Werner Muff, but as it’s Sunday on BBC he was called ‘Moof’.
Phew, I think we got away with it said the director, so who’s up next, Laura Kraut. Cue a fainting director and I half expected to pan back to the parade ring to find Clare in jackboots as if it was a Tory stag party.
Right that’s the smutty innuendo and political hot potatoes served up, let’s get back to the action. I know, send for Ben Maher, he’s a posh sort, he’ll get us back on an even keel. His horse is called Triple X you say. Nurse, more smelling salts for the director.
In fact it was Tripple X III, you must remember the first two, and the pair bounced through like a rude lady, to make the jump off against the clock, along with Laura Renwick whose horse had ‘the heart of a lion’ and Rolf-Goran Bengtsson whose equine chum had ‘springs in its heels’. Surely this is cheating?
No such problems in the jump-off, Manuel up first again, this time not towering over the fences, having four faults and was last spotted trying to break off a branch and muttering ‘I’ve warned you, time and time again’ in Spanish.
Laura Kraut was also downed before cocky Guy Williams, who predicted he would win, emerged and as Tucker said: “When confidence is high sometimes it can get you all the way.’
Indeed, all the way to the second fence which he clattered into, making him the second Guy in London history to proudly announce that he was going to blow the opposition away and fail miserably.
Not Ben though, who achieved that rarest of things, beating a German into second in a World Cup, and even Tucker and the parade P.A. announcer were going nuts screaming ‘go on, Ben, go on’ as he got over the last fence.
Cut to Clare and she’s smoking a cigar and doing V signs while wearing a Spitfire T-Shirt, wheeling Tim Stockdale around muttering something about ‘your jungs took one helluva beating’. Get your euros on the Germans winning the Olympics now.