World Dressage Masters in Palm Beach Canceled for 2011

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World Dressage Masters Palm Beach victory gallop by Isabell Werth and Satchmo, Anky van Grunsven and Salinero and Steffen Peters and Ravel. © 2010 Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com
World Dressage Masters Palm Beach victory gallop by Isabell Werth and Satchmo, Anky van Grunsven and Salinero and Steffen Peters and Ravel. © 2010 Ilse Schwarz/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

WELLINGTON, Florida, Dec. 1–The Exquis World Dressage Masters in Palm Beach that has kicked off the richest series of dressage competitions for the past two years has been canceled for 2011.

The €100,000 (US$130,000) CDI5* had been scheduled for the first week of February as the dressage centerpiece of the Winter Equestrian Festival at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center (PBIEC). Equestrian Sport Productions that owns and operates PBIEC disclosed the cancellation Tuesday night after release of the highlights of the 12-week WEF with $6.2 million (€4.78 million) in prize money for hunters and jumpers.

“We took the difficult decision to cancel this year’s World Dressage Masters, as we were unable to guarantee the participation of the top European riders that had always made the event so successful in the past,” said Michael Stone, ESP President. “There are significant costs involved in staging the event, and without the stars participating, we couldn’t guarantee a sufficient number of spectators to make the event feasible.”

The World Dressage Masters Grand Prix Freestyle in PBIEC’s main arena with its distinctive coral-colored world class footing under lights drew spectators from around the world to one of the most glamorous destinations on the global equestrian circuit.

During the two years of the WDM in Palm Beach–the only venue in the series outside Europe–it attracted nine-time World Cup champion Anky van Grunsven and European Championship team mate Edward Gal of The Netherlands, multiple Olympic gold medalist Isabell Werth of Germany as well as Steffen Peters of San Diego, California and Canada’s Ashley Holzer.

Steffen Peters had made WDM in Palm Beach a focus of his winter campaigns with the WEG double-medalist Ravel in 2009 and 2010 and planned to do so in 2011.

“The news is disappointing,” Steffen told dressage-news.com. “I really looked forward to coming to Florida.”

The event was by invitation which became the most sought-after among North American dressage riders provided with an unprecedented opportunity for most of them to compete head-to-head at home against some of the world’s top competitors.

For 2011, however, conflicts with the winter-long indoor World Cup qualifiers in Europe, changes in horse ownership and fitness of some horses hampered the ability of the European organizers to get commitments from the top combinations on the International Equestrian Federation (FEI) rankings.

Unlike jumpers that routinely compete on both sides of the Atlantic, European dressage horses typically only compete outside the continent in global championships such as Olympics, World Cups and the World Equestrian Games that have been held only once in the Americas, in Kentucky earlier this year.

It was unknown how the cancellation of the Palm Beach event would affect the rest of the WDM CDI5* events that in 2010 included Munich, Germany; Cannes, France; Falsterbo, Sweden, and Hickstead, England.

But scheduling conflicts among European competitions are known to have caused issues threatening the viability of some shows.

Interest has been expressed for a Brazilian competition.

Each of the events offers €100,000 prize money, most of it provided by Exquis and Moorlands of The Netherlands, who created the series to promote and develop Olympic level dressage.

Exquis is owned by Anthony Kies who sponsors high performance dressage riders Hans Peter Minderhoud of the Netherlands and Anne van Olst of Denmark, both Olympic medalists, and Dutch jumper rider Harrie Smolders. Moorlands, owned by Kees and Tosca Visser, is most famous for the ownership until recently of the superstar stallion Totilas.

Management is by Sportbizz, owned by John van der Laar and Camil Smeulders and based in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands.

ESP paid for transportation and accommodation of horses, riders and grooms from Europe and California in 2009 and 2010 as well as the five judges. Those costs were more than $140,000 each year, all borne by ESP.

The Grand Prix carried prize money of €10,000, the Special €30,000 and the Freestyle €60,000 (US$13,000, $39,000 and $78,000).