March 30, 2017 — There were two winners today as competition got under way in the FEI World Cup Dressage Final. On the athlete side, it was world number one Isabell Werth of Germany, the only rider among 16 competitors to break 80 percent in the Grand Prix, scoring 82.300 on the elegant black mare, Weihegold OLD.
The other winner was Omaha, a city that until recently was a complete unknown to many of those on hand at the CenturyLink Center for the indoor championships in dressage and show jumping. But praise has been universal for the show, the Omaha Equestrian Foundation that is putting it on and the people involved in the effort.
I had asked judge Katrina Wuest to compare the styles of Weihegold and Verdades, ridden brilliantly to a second place score of 79.800 percent by Laura Graves of the U.S. (More on that further down).
But the judge came up to me later, asking me to mention how wonderful everything is here. I was an early believer in Omaha, seeing the determination when I first visited in 2015 to show the world what could be done in the Midwest, despite the fact that the region had never hosted a championship international equestrian competition.
From the stabling to the warm-up area, the vendor fair and the arena, everything is working out perfectly. Cheers for Omaha!
Dressage isn’t a big thing in this area, so it was a pleasant surprise to see a nice crowd, especially on a Thursday afternoon. Many seemed knowledgeable (the Cup finals attract people from all over the globe) but those who were new to dressage caught on quickly, I could see from surveying the way the audience reacted.
I’m not sure everyone was astute enough to notice a miss in the two-tempis for Isabell, but that was her mare’s only error.
“Definitely, it was my fault. Like always, it’s the rider’s fault when you have mistakes,” said Isabell.
“I forgot to stay concentrated. The rest was really good, fantastic pirouettes and piaffe-passage.” And, I might add, seamless transition between those movements.
Isabell noted her mare was “really impressed” in the prize-giving and she expects the electric atmosphere to increase on Saturday for the freestyle and the title. The Grand Prix only serves to sort out the order for the freestyle, where everyone starts with a clean slate. Isabell will go last in that competition, and the tension surely will build as everyone awaits her performance to music.
Laura is staying cool, and won’t give the trophy away to Isabell yet, however.
“I think anything is possible,” Laura declared. She cited two errors, a step back at the beginning of the first piaffe and a right pirouette that wasn’t perfect, but aside from that, Diddy, as her horse is known, was on the money. She and I discussed her test. Click on the right-pointing arrow to watch the video.
Third place went to Carl Hester of Great Britain, the man who masterminded his nation’s rise to Olympic gold in 2012 and Valegro’s elevation to being the best dressage horse in the world.
Carl was marked at 76.671 for a ride that was well-calculated without pulling out all the stops. I asked him to talk about it. Click on the right-pointing arrow for the video.
So, now for the judge’s comments.
Katrina sat at C and “could see the straightness of everything.” The official from Germany called Verdades “extremely powerful…and maybe from the paces, the best. But sometimes Laura has to keep this big, big impulsion under control and that made her sometimes appear somewhat crooked on the center line…nothing serious. Isabel’s horse is extremely collected and does everything with ease and is extremely straight. And except for the two-tempis, there was not the slightest idea of an inconsistency or a mistake. The same with Carl. The motor of his horse is not a Ferrari, but he gets a 9 for coming in for straightness for his accuracy.”
Sadly, two of the competitors will not be going forward to the freestyle. Wendi Williamson of New Zealand, who came the furthest to get here with Dejavu MH, was eliminated when a steward found blood in the horse’s mouth after her ride. Elimination for presence of blood is automatic.
Meanwhile, Hanna Karasiova of Belarus scored just 58.885 percent and can’t continue, because a score of 60 percent in the Grand Prix is needed to go on to the freestyle.
Sitting on the sidelines when he should be center stage is defending champion Hans-Peter Minderhoud of the Netherlands, whose horse, Glock’s Flirt, went lame hours before he was supposed to get on the plane to come here.
“It was quite a tough Friday and Saturday,” he recalled about that disappointment.
“It was so close before we had to leave and the horse was in really good shape and I had a new freestyle, so I was really looking forward to it. Your whole season is (about) going to the finals.
Asked how the horse is doing he said. “Everything is going to be okay, but it takes a little while.”
Hans-Peter continued his sad tale: “And then we came here and I saw myself everywhere,” he said ruefully, referring to the photos of himself from last year’s finals that are on posters all over the arena, the airport and the city.
The 2016 champ is here supporting his partner, Edward Gal, competing on Glock’s Voice. Edward (who used to ride the great Totilas, you’ll remember) is fourth on 74.485 percent.
Asked about whether he thinks Isabell is a shoo-in for the title, Hans-Peter observed, “If she is in the shape with Weihegold as she was at the last shows, she is definitely the favorite. But she also has to ride, and things can happen.”
To see more about the Cup finals, go to www.omahaworldcup2017.com.
Look for additional photos at www.facebook.com/dressagetoday. And I’ll be writing about an Isabell Werth clinic on Friday, so be sure to check it out in the evening.