British riders are expected to be in medal contention at the Tokyo Games.
Britain’s powerful equestrian team could enjoy a record-breaking Olympics by eclipsing their previous best haul of five medals at London 2012.
Dressage star Charlotte Dujardin took centre-stage in London and Rio with individual gold on the now retired Valegro, and she returns for a third Games aboard new ride Gio.
This time around, though, British equestrian’s golden hue might surround Maher and eventer Oliver Townend – two riders at the peak of their powers.
Both are hugely-experienced – 38-year-old Maher competes in his fourth Olympics, while Townend has headed the world rankings since 2018 – and they have proven champion horses in Explosion W and Ballaghmor Class.
Maher heads to Tokyo on the back of three major successes during recent weeks, including Royal Windsor’s prestigious £430,000 Rolex Grand Prix, while Townend triumphed at Kentucky’s elite five-star event on his 2017 Burghley winner just over two months ago.
Maher and Explosion W also banked major championship experience with individual silver and team bronze at the 2019 European Championships.
It is a combination that often seems a class apart, evoking memories of how Rio individual gold medallist Nick Skelton and Big Star dominated showjumping as they built towards their crowning glory five years ago.
“I have never driven a Ferrari, but I can imagine riding him feels like that,” Maher said.
“You sit there, and he just takes you. He fills you with such confidence.
“I am so fortunate to have him. I feel we have the momentum, and hopefully we are right where we want to be.
“I think if I asked him to cook me breakfast, he probably could do it! We are really in sync.
“He helps me, and I help him. I know I have the horse, and I believe he can do anything.
“He was purchased as a seven-year-old, I tried him, and he sounded like a tennis player – he pounds off the floor with that grunt off the floor – and he was also very careful.
“He has always jumped clear rounds, he trusts me, and I try to do him justice every time.”
Four of the nine-strong British starting teams across dressage, eventing and showjumping have already won Olympic gold – Dujardin, her trainer and mentor Carl Hester, who contests a sixth Games, in addition to London 2012 team showjumping duo Maher and Scott Brash.
When Townend is added to the mix alongside world team gold medallist Tom McEwen, plus their fellow Olympic debutant Laura Collett, dressage newcomer Charlotte Fry and showjumper Holly Smith, it is a potent blend.
While German dressage trio Isabell Werth, Jessica von Bredow-Wendl and Dorothee Schneider are expected to lead the team and individual gold medal race, a podium place for Dujardin in both competitions cannot be ruled out.
Such are the tiny margins that separate showjumping’s top riders, potential gold medallists are lining up, including Maher, Brash, 2012 Olympic champion Steve Guerdat, Germany’s world number one Daniel Deusser and American star Kent Farrington.
Ireland will also fancy their medal chances through a trio of Bertram Allen, Darragh Kenny and London bronze medallist Cian O’Connor, but individual and team gold for Britain is an achievable twin aim.
It is 49 years since Britain last won an Olympic eventing team title, and it could prove a fight to the finish between Townend, McEwen and Collett and a German trio led by Michael Jung, who is chasing a hat-trick of individual golds, and former world champion Sandra Auffarth.
Starting on Saturday, Tokyo’s Equestrian Park and the spectacular Sea Forest eventing cross-country course will host action across 12 days of competition.