Live from Omaha!

Live from Omaha!
On the scene at the 2017 FEI World Cup Dressage Final

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Long Live the Queen

Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro on their way to their second consecutive Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final title. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.

Her new logo – just released within the past couple of weeks – incorporates an image of a crown, so it’s only fitting that Charlotte Dujardin, the Queen of Everything, retains her title.

With the almost too-good-to-be-real Valegro, the British woman is now the back-to-back Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final champion as well as the reigning Olympic, European, and World Equestrian Games champion. With the same How to Train Your Dragon freestyle that won gold in Normandy last August, Dujardin squashed the competition with a score of 94.196 percent in today’s Grand Prix Freestyle, coming just tenths of a point short of the world-record score of 94.300 percent she and “Blueberry” set at Olympia in London last December. The nearly foot-perfect freestyle brought the crowd of nearly 11,000 in the Thomas & Mack Center to its feet for a thunderous ovation.

“Valegro just loves it,” Dujardin said afterward when asked how she keeps the 13-year-old Dutch gelding (Negro x Gerschwin) going. “It’s not like I have to force him, because he loves the work.”

Dujardin frequently comments on how lucky she is to have the ride on this reliable horse. “I just sit and steer him ’round. There’s no sweat involved,” she quipped.
 
Edward Gal and Glock's Undercover N.O.P. of the Netherlands passage to second place in the World Cup Dressage Final freestyle. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
Nearly 10 percentage points behind the untouchable Dujardin was second-placed Edward Gal of the Netherlands, who piloted the 14-year-old Dutch gelding Glock’s Undercover N.O.P. (Ferro x Donnerhall) to a score of 84.696 percent. Undercover was more relaxed than he’d been in Thursday’s Grand Prix, with a longer neck and a nose in front of the vertical. He could have stretched out more in the extended trots, and the walk rhythm varied a bit at times on account of tension. His pirouettes drew audience applause. It was a solid program to mildly interesting but not compelling orchestral instrumentals; bottom line, it wasn’t Dujardin’s freestyle.

Gal showed a quick wit and good humor when he was asked how it felt to be the oldest rider at the press conference for the top four finishers. “Normally I’m not the oldest one because Isabell [Werth of Germany] is here,” he said with a grin.
 
World Cup Dressage Final newcomers Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and Unee BB of Germany finished third. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
A new face ascended the medal podium in Las Vegas to claim third place: Germany’s Jessica von Bredow-Werndl on the 14-year-old Dutch stallion Unee BB (Gribaldi x Dageraad). Von Bredow-Werndl’s unusual freestyle began with the voice of Martin Luther King Jr. and his iconic “I have a dream” line. Later in the program, we heard the rider’s own voice as she uttered over the music, “I have a dream that all living creatures can respect each other.” Unee BB missed a two-tempi change and swapped leads as von Bredow-Werndl brought him back from an extended canter down the long side, but the freestyle was strong enough to earn a score of 80.464 percent.

For the US, Delight…and Crushing Disappointment

Our new young stars, Laura Graves and Verdades, gave a super performance in Las Vegas. This competition is “Diddy’s” very first indoor show – and it happens to be an incredibly close, loud, and electric venue. After an initial spook at the floodlit World Cup Dressage Final trophy in the corner near H, the 13-year-old Dutch gelding (Florett As x Goya) got a little backed off for a short time. He got afraid during a piaffe at A, and later he scooted forward during a canter half-pass when the crowd applauded. But these were honest rookie-horse reactions, and Diddy’s overall excellent quality and a sensitive and sympathetic ride from Graves resulted in a score of 79.125, which put them in fifth place…except that it didn’t.
 
The USA's Laura Graves and Verdades finished fourth. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
In the official standings, Graves was fourth. The reason didn’t become clear right away, but the first sign of a problem was the buzzing in the audience when the fourth-placed scorers, Steffen Peters and Legolas 92, didn’t appear at the awards ceremony. They weren’t mentioned. Where were they?

Where they were, I’m sorry to report, was eliminated. As World Cup Finals press chief Marty Bauman announced at the press conference afterward, Peters was eliminated because evidence of blood was found on Legolas’s side after his freestyle. The FEI has a zero-tolerance rule regarding blood on horses – you may recall Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival’s elimination during their Grand Prix test at the 2010 World Equestrian Games when the horse showed blood in his mouth from biting his tongue – and so the FEI stewards had no choice. According to Bauman, Peters “accepted their decision gracefully.”

I feel terrible for Peters, who is an outstanding horseman and whose training methods are beyond reproach. He doesn’t need for me to defend his reputation, but I’ll put in my $.02 anyway.
 
A strong performance by the USA's Steffen Peters and Legolas put them in fourth place, but the pair was eliminated after blood was found on the horse's side after their Grand Prix Freestyle. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
The elimination is even sadder considering the fact that Peters had, in fact, placed fourth on a score of 80.286 percent. The notoriously spooky Legolas kept it together admirably in front of the exuberant crowd, although the 13-year-old Westfalen gelding (Laomedon x Florestan II) did lose it for a moment at the loud laughter that greeted the voice-over line at the beginning of the freestyle: “Hey, I’m Legolas. Let’s go!” His two-tempis were clean, although he missed a change in the ones; and a double pirouette directly into piaffe showed a high degree of difficulty. Peters got a standing ovation from the largely American crowd at the final halt and salute, which was punctuated by the voice-over words of “Legolas” saying, “Hey, let’s get out of here!”

The Vegas Experience

For Dujardin, Gal, von Bredow-Werndl, and Graves, this was their first trip to Sin City. All were in agreement that Las Vegas was living up to its glitzy image.
 
FEI World Cup Dressage Final title sponsor and haute couture fashion designer Reem Acra (center) poses with top-placed finishers Edward Gal, Charlotte Dujardin, Jessica von Bredow-Werndl, and Laura Graves. Photo by Jennifer Bryant.
“It’s everything I thought it would be,” said Dujardin. “Seeing how crazy the Strip is; going to shows in the evening. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it.”

“It’s not real!” exclaimed von Bredow-Werndl. “I go through the casino [hotel] at six in the morning and they’re playing loud music; I come to the arena and the people are going crazy.”

“It is very surreal,” Graves agreed. “I left the hotel very early this morning, before six o’clock, to come ride, and there was still a party in the bar.”

Although the Vegas lights and boisterous fans may have bolstered the energy level at the World Cup Dressage Final, at least one attendee said the thrill was entirely the result of the rush from seeing the best dressage in the world.

Said US FEI 5* judge Lilo Fore, who was the head of the ground jury for today’s freestyle final: “No matter how many years you sit in those [judges’] boxes, the excitement of seeing those good horses and riders never goes away.”



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