Maher excels for Britain
Ben Maher delivered an immaculate performance to kick-start Great Britain's bid for success at the FEI European Showjumping Championships.
After a stuttering opening when his team-mates William Funnell and Michael Whitaker both had fences down in the one-round speed class, Olympic gold medallist Maher jumped a brilliant clear.
Riding American owner Jane Clark's 11-year-old grey mare Cella - the horse on which he won this year's inaugural London Global Champions' Tour grand prix - Maher clocked 76.31 seconds to lead the 78-rider field.
Scores from Tuesday night's action at the MCH Arena count towards team and individual medals, although there are still two rounds of team jumping to come tomorrow and Thursday, with the individual European title race not concluding until Saturday.
But while Maher made a powerful statement of intent that he means business, there was a frustrating four faults for his London 2012 gold medal-winning colleague Scott Brash.
Brash clocked 81.76 seconds for 13th spot on Hello Sanctos, while Whitaker (Viking) posted a time of 87.24 for 38th place and Funnell finished in 91.84 with Billy Congo, standing 52nd overnight.
But some predictable title contenders are tucked in just behind Maher, notably Switzerland's Steve Guerdat, the reigning Olympic individual champion, France's 2009 European title winner Kevin Staut, top Portuguese rider Luciana Diniz and 2011 European champion Rolf-Goran Bengtsson.
After preliminary flurries in the team competition, France lead courtesy of three riders - Staut, Roger Yves Bost and Patrice Delaveau - finishing among the top eight, with Britain lying second, Switzerland third and highly-fancied Germany fourth. It is, though, very early days.
The Irish quartet of Shane Sweetnam, Cameron Hanley, Shane Breen and Conor Swail are sixth, with Sweetnam their highest-placed individual rider in 12th, clocking a solid time of 81.08 seconds despite being drawn first to go.
Maher has only had the ride on Cella for nine months, but he already has the London GCT crown under his belt, plus a third place finish in the recent Dublin grand prix.
"She is a fast horse," Maher told Press Association Sport.
"I decided to make a plan to go quickly and she felt phenomenal jumping the first three jumps, so I just steered her around, basically.
"The (treble) combination had been very hard to jump at the end of the course. It's not the biggest combination, but maybe it was just the colour or the position it was in on the course, so I kind of had a little bit of a fight and made sure she paid attention.
"I am where I need to be. Today is a difficult day to judge. You are certainly not going to win it today, but you can be in a good position or it can all go wrong. It is a long week."
After Whitaker and Funnell collected 12 faults between them, it increased the degree of responsibility on Maher to jump clear.
"I got a really good start, probably a little bit too forward for him, but he shouldn't have had the fence down that he did," said 53-year-old Whitaker, who is competing in his 10th European Championship.
And Funnell, who had the first two parts of the treble down, added: "The sun was shining right on the combination, I was perhaps a little bit close and I think he just stared at it.
"It wasn't like him to hit it that hard. He wasn't unlucky, was he? But there is no reason why they (Viking and Billy Congo) cannot come out and jump clear rounds tomorrow."