Updated: 21/08/2013 15:35 | By Press Association

Britain on brink of equestrian gold

Ben Maher is top of the individual leaderboard

Ben Maher is top of the individual leaderboard

Great Britain's showjumpers are three clear rounds away from adding the European team title to their London 2012 Olympic crown.

After a magnificent display of jumping at Herning's MCH Arena, Britain lead the team competition heading into Thursday's final phase.

London 2012 heroes Ben Maher and Scott Brash both jumped clear rounds, as did Michael Whitaker, which meant William Funnell's score of 12 faults on Billy Congo could be discarded.

And Maher also leads the individual competition, which will be concluded on Saturday, aboard 11-year-old grey mare Cella.

Germany are the only country in showjumping history to have held Olympic and European team titles simultaneously, while Britain last conquered Europe 24 years ago when they were inspired by Michael Whitaker's older brother John.

They lead second-placed Switzerland by just 0.27 penalties, with France third, a further 2.69 penalties adrift.

Pre-competition favourites Germany are fourth, but the Irish quartet of Shane Sweetnam, Cameron Hanley, Shane Breen and Conor Swail dropped three places to ninth.

Britain, Switzerland, France, Germany, Sweden, Holland, Italy, Belgium, Ireland and Spain now all progress to the team finale. If three of Britain's quartet jump clear again, they are guaranteed gold.

"There is a long way to go, but they are riding great and we are looking a strong team," Great Britain boss Rob Hoekstra said.

"If we keep jumping clear rounds, then we have a real possibility of winning.

"There were three exceptional clear rounds today, and if Will jumps clear tomorrow I will be very happy. You can't do better than three clears and not add to our overnight score."

Brash's performance on Hello Sanctos was exactly what Britain needed following Funnell's struggle, and it meant they finished on their overnight score of 8.18 penalties.

"I knew we wanted to discard the 12 faults, so I had to go clear," Brash said.

"The only jump he didn't jump well was at the combination. I felt I had to press him for the next fence, and we were a bit fortunate coming out as he rubbed the last pole, but he was spot-on everywhere else. You need a bit of luck."

Maher, who has already won the London Global Champions' Tour grand prix and Hickstead's Longines King George V Gold Cup this year, continues to set the individual pace.

Scores gained in Thursday's team jumping count in the individual stakes, but it does not reach a crescendo until after two more rounds on Saturday that will feature the top 25 competitors.

Reigning Olympic champion, Switzerland's Steve Guerdat, is tucked in just behind Maher on his London 2012 horse Nino des Buissonets, with Frenchman Roger Yves Bost third and 2011 European champion Rolf-Goran Bengtsson fourth.

Brash's clear round saw him climb six places to seventh, while Whitaker is now 18th after lying 38th following Tuesday's speed class, with Funnell 57th.

"She (Cella) doesn't have the most experience of this kind of level day on day, but she is jumping great," said Maher, who has had the ride on American Jane Clark's horse for just nine months.

"Time faults are very expensive, so maybe I almost went a little too quick, but she actually jumps better with pace.

"The course was difficult enough. The double to the water was kind of a big stretch out, followed by a choice of six or seven strides, and I almost ran out of room before the water. Luckily, the horse has wings, so it helped a bit!

"She has never done a championship before. It is her first season in Europe, really.

"In America, it is different. You tend to travel a long way, stay at the same place for a few weeks and then rest, before travelling to the next venue.

"In Europe you are in new arenas all the time, and it has been a huge learning curve for her."

And Whitaker, who is competing in his 10th European Championships and has won 11 medals, including three team gold, was similarly enthused by Viking's performance.

"I am thrilled with him - he jumped really well," 53-year-old Whitaker said.

"He was a bit sharper today than he was yesterday. He hardly touched a fence over what was a tough course.

"The speed class yesterday was not ideal preparation for him, it was why I went fairly economically with him. From now on, it is just about going in and jumping clear rounds, which should suit him."

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