|On their way: Great Britain's Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, the reigning World Cup Dressage Final champions, half-pass to Grand Prix victory with 85.414%. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
Nobody here at the 2015 Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final can touch the golden pair of Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro. Not yet, anyway.
The 2014 World Cup Final champions, 2014 World Equestrian Games champions, and 2012 Olympic champions remained firmly fixed in the dressage-scoring stratosphere today, in the World Cup Final Grand Prix. One of a precious few horse-rider combinations in the world to crack the 80-percent scoring ceiling, the British superstars did so again today, topping the field of 18 with a final overall score of 85.414 percent.
All seven judges (yes, seven --there were judges at K and F in addition to the customary C, E, H, M, and B) placed Valegro first. Today's judging panel consisted of Francis Verbeek-von Rooy at C, Hans-Christian Matthiessen (who replaced Isabelle Judet) at K, Stephen Clarke at E, Annette Fransen Iacobaeus at H, Maria Schwennesen at M, Peter Holler at B, and the USA's own Lilo Fore at F.
Dujardin clinched victory easily, even with a couple of minor bobbles, including a small loss of balance stepping into a piaffe on the center line. We've come to expect perfection from Valegro, and even when he's not breaking his own world record, he still comes pretty damned close. The 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Negro x Gerschwin) is a cadence machine. His tempos never waver -- most notably in the difficult piaffe-passage tours that ruthlessly expose any loss of balance. He has three fantastic gaits with no obvious weak link, and – in another comparison that leaves some other horses coming up short – he is equally supple and strong on both sides and in both hind legs. He pushes and carries equally with both hind legs.
|The Netherlands' Edward Gal and Glock's Undercover N.O.P. piaffe to second place with a score of 79.057%. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.|
Second behind Dujardin was Edward Gal of the Netherlands on Glock’s Undercover N.O.P. The 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding (Ferro x Donnerhall) earned an average score of 79.057 percent.
Gal’s test was not without mistakes. He picked up counter-canter instead of passage at M. There was a slightly overeager canter transition at E. And Gal had to delay the start of the one-tempis for a couple of strides because the horse wasn’t quite balanced, which made for a less-polished execution. Undercover—black and beautiful like a certain other famous former mount of Gal’s, but not quite in the league of the legendary Totilas—had tension creep into moments of the test, and he gets short and tight in the neck when it happens. But he’s lovely and talented, and his good basics evidently overcame the bobbles in the judges’ minds today, as all had him in second place (except for Fore, who placed Undercover fifth).
Speaking of tension, the 13-year-old Westfalen gelding Legolas (Laomedon x Florestan II) is known for being spooky, and the USA’s Steffen Peters has been expressing concerns about the horse’s ability to handle the electric indoor atmosphere at the Thomas & Mack Center since last year’s World Equestrian Games. Well, Peters has been prepping Legolas extensively to desensitize him to the lights, crowds, and noises, and all his hard work paid off today. Legolas was more relaxed than at the WEG, with clean tempi changes (a previous bugaboo) and a piaffe-passage tour in a better balance. The changes could have used more expression, and Legolas backed off the extended canter a tad early headed toward K (a corner that a number of horses weren’t thrilled about), and the second canter pirouette came around a bit too quickly. But otherwise it was a lovely test, and Peters exulted and pumped his fist in the air when it was over. His score of 76.843 percent put him in third place.
Afterward, Peters admitted that the strong showing “was probably a big surprise to me, too,” referring to the fact that Legolas’s performances in Florida this winter were sometimes marred by reactivity to the crowds. “We knew, if were going to qualify for Vegas, we needed to change things drastically. A week ago, we were invited to a farm three hours north of us. A hundred people showed up, a lot of noise, a lot of atmosphere. We recorded a sound file of the very end of a freestyle with the crowd cheering while the music was still playing.”
Peters edited the short clip to make it five minutes long, and he “played it over and over again in this new sound system we installed in this covered arena. I played it at 5:30 in the morning and when it was dark, and it paid off.” He said he was thrilled with how well Legolas handled the atmosphere: “Today I was probably even more excited than Charlotte and Edward.”
Finishing fourth was an exciting new pair from Germany: Jessica von Bredow-Werndl on the 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood stallion Unee BB (Gribaldi x Dageraad). Unee BB is dark bay, gorgeous, and with that enviable combination of scope and suppleness. He had one mistake in the two-tempis, and he broke to trot at the beginning of his second extended canter because nature called. But his final score of 74.843 percent clearly thrilled his rider.
The score also just edged out the other US combination, Laura Graves and her 13-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Verdades (Florett AS x Goya). You probably know that this green-at-Grand-Prix pair burst onto the international scene at the 2014 WEG with a fifth-place freestyle finish, and the US press in particular has been buzzing about them ever since. I think Laura and “Diddy” got more attention than Captain America, Steffen Peters, before this World Cup Final, even though our captain is the competitive veteran and a past World Cup champion.
Las Vegas is Diddy’s first indoor competition, and it showed a little bit today with some moments of tension—a startle near H, a backed-off moment in the first piaffe, and a bobble at the end of the two-tempis. Diddy got a bit tight in the neck at times, and he wasn’t quite the elastic fantastic we saw in Normandy last August or at the Florida shows this winter. But let’s put it into perspective: This combination, still new to the international scene, placed fifth in a class at the World Cup Dressage Final, outranking such celebrated veterans as Germany’s Isabell Werth (eighth on El Santo NRW, 72.843 percent). Pretty good in my book.
A Day of Rest (for the Horses, Anyway)
At a World Cup Dressage Final, all competitors who earn a score of 58 percent or better in the Grand Prix go on to the GP Freestyle. The lowest score today was 66.971 (Tatiana Dorofeeva of Russia on Kartsevo Upperville), so everybody will get to contest the Freestyle on Saturday, April 18. Tomorrow, dressage fans will be able to enjoy a diversion in the form of the Las Vegas Dressage Showcase, with exhibition performances that promise plenty of Vegas-style razzle-dazzle. Stay tuned for all the fun; plus I have yet to make it to that shoppers’ paradise known as the World Cup Finals Gift Show. Who needs gambling when you have an equestrian trade show to entice you to part with your money?