Rolex FEI World Cup Final: Images & More

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Story & Photos by KENNETH J. BRADDICK

LAS VEGAS, Nev., Apr. 19–The victory by the USA’s Steffen Peters and Ravel at the Rolex FEI World Cup Final made history and may be the birth of a new era of dressage.

In the 23-year history of the World Cup that is a creation built around the West European winter indoor circuit, only Debbie McDonald and the now-retired Brentina have broken Europe’s grip on the trophy. And of those 23 titles, 11 have been won by just two women, Anky van Grunsven nine times and Isabell Werth twice.

Now, Peters and Ravel have changed the formula in which the top two women not only ruled the winner’s podium but provided the glamor, excitement and talent that set up contests of Olympian proportions which many believe has provided the base on which dressage has survived as a global sport for so many years. Thankfully, as some have pointed out, these two women are from different nations, van Grunsven of The Netherlands and Werth of Germany.

Both women are ready for the American challenge. Van Grunsvem, who singlehandedly has raised the musical freestyle to celebrity art status, welcomed the new champion saying that it can only be good for the sport that the results of championships will no longer be assumed; Werth determined to apply her already legendary work ethic and professionalism to meet the new challenger.

The next confrontation between the three most likely will come in July in Aachen, the German CSIO that is to horse sports what the Wimbledon, French, U.S. and Australian Opens all rolled into one are for tennis.

At the same time as a new combination has made it into the dressage stratosphere, the newly inaugurated Exquis World Dressage Masters is providing a  stage on a global scale with the ingredient that has been lacking in the sport — serious prize money.

The World Dressage Masters was launched in Palm Beach in January with World Cup competitors Peters and Ravel and van Grunsven and IPS Painted Black while Hans Peter Minderhoud rode Escapado.

At the next WDM in Munich at the end of May, van Grunsven and Werth are expected to face off again. The other two venues on the circuit are Cannes on the French Riviera in June and Hickstead in Britain at the end of July.

Each of the events offers €100,000 (US$130,000) in prize money.

With the World Cup unlikely to return to the USA any time soon–the jumping World Cup has been awarded to European venues through 2013–WDM offers the biggest stage for world class dressage in the Western Hemisphere after the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky.

Back to Las Vegas, and the feverish Saturday night. First, there was the standard bearer. And, in keeping with Las Vegas, it was, well, not the local pony club style.

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The Final, for some, was a celebration of pride and joy.

wc-gpf-heath-ryanAustralian Heath Ryan and Regardez Moi scored above 70 per cent. The pair spent the month before the Final at Steffen Peters’ San Diego, Calif. farm.

marco-bernal-diamoreAlthough he has ridden for his native Colombia in two Pan American Games, including a team silver medal, Marco Bernal who now makes his home in Wellington, Florida, displayed his national pride to an appreciative crowd.

michal-rapcewicz-randon-web-1Poland’s Michal Rapcewicz pumping his fist after the powerful gaits of his Randon got the crowd into the spirit of the night.

jan-brink-briar-1Jan Brink and Bjorsell’s Briar of Sweden who won hearts in both the 2005 and 2007 World Cups in Las Vegas receiving a standing ovation in their farewell World Cup appearance. The pair got to Las Vegas by winning qualifying competitions despite the stallion’s age of 18 years.

monica-theodorescu-whisperMonica Theodorescu on Whisper, who was the reserve for the German team at the 2008 Olympics, applauding the crowd after her ride that placed the pair sixth.

ashley-holzer-pop-art-9t5u0409The amazingly consistent Ashley Holzer and her Pop Art who finished fifth in both the freestyle and the Grand Prix. Holzer, who has represented her native Canada in three Olympics but makes her home in New York and Wellington, Florida, has enjoyed tremendous success on the highly competitive Florida winter circuit.

THE FINAL FOUR

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Hans Peter Minderhoud, who won team silver for The Netherlands at the 2008 Olympics, on Exquis Nadine. He is among the elite group of riders in the world who relishes the competition and atmosphere of the highest levels of dressage.

avg-ips-painted-black-webAnky van Grunsven’s celebration after her freestyle on IPS Painted Black was not the trademark enthusiasm of her title-winning performances, providing a hint that it may not be enough to win her 10th World Cup. She rode after Peters and Werth. But the foremost freestyle rider in history and always gracious when not atop the results, van Grunsven welcomed the new era of world class dressage in which she and her longtime top challenger, Isabell Werth, will have to make room for Peters and Ravel.

isabell-werth-satchmoWith a score of 84.50 per cent, Isabell Werth and Satchmo–her mount showed none of the resistance displayed at the 2008 Olympics but still won her individual silver in a controversial result–were leading in the World Cup Final with only Peters and Ravel and Canada’s Ashley Holzer and Pop Art remaining. Werth later carped about the score, a scant 0.450 per cent behind Peters and Ravel. But the detailed results (go to RESULTS) did not bear her out. The USA’s Linda Zang, president of the ground jury, gave her the highest of the five judges and Zang’s score for Peters and Ravel was lower than that of Wim Ernes of The Netherlands. The even-handedness of the scoring by all five judges was in marked contrast to the judging in many international compeititions in recent years, such as the 2008 Olympics that led to the now infamous midnight meeting. Zang scored Peters-Ravel higher than Werth-Satchmo, but Zang’s score for Werth was the highest of all the judges.

iw-satchmo-photogsPhotographers were evident beside the arena, but Isabell Werth did not acknowledge their presence as she did during the Grand Prix. She said that the clicking of the cameras was enough to startle Satchmo during one of the pirouettes.

wc-sp-webWiping away tears after his score was posted that showed Peters and Ravel had won the FEI World Cup for the first time on home soil. Debbie McDonald and Brentina won in Europe in 2003.ravel-with-wcRavel checking out the hunk of silver for which he has worked so hard, with rider Steffen Peters and presented by Sven Holmberg of the FEI looking on.

steffen-peters-gpaAt the news conference at the end of the 2009 FEI World Cup Final, Steffen Peters keeps an eye on the trophy that he and Ravel worked so hard to capture.

NOW THERE ARE THREE

avg-sp-iw-9t5u0758Anky van Grunsven of The Netherlands, nine World Cup titles, and Isabell Werth of Germany, two titles, flank first-time winner Steffen Peters of the USA.