Carl Hester & Uthopia Lead After 1st Day of Olympic Dressage, Germany’s Top Two Yet to Ride in Team Grand Prix

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Carl Hester and Uthopia on their way to the top of the rankings on the first day of Olympic dressage. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

LONDON, Aug. 2–Carl Hester and Uthopia led a British drive to the top of the Olympic team standings after the first day of Grand Prix Thursday, but Germany’s top two combination are yet to ride and for the first time the medals will be decided only after the top seven nations battle it out in the Grand Prix Special next Tuesday.

The top place finish by Carl and the 11-year-old KWPN stallion (Metall x Odelia x Inspekteur) on 77.720 per cent with team mate Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris ranked second on 76.839 per cent sent the hometown crowd into a frenzy of joy at the historic Greenwich Park that was near its capacity of 23,000 spectators despite occasional heavy rainstorms.

The team scores after day one were meaningless because two combinations rode for some nations, and one for others. For the record, Great Britain was leading with Denmark 2nd, Spain 3rd, Australia 4th, Germany 5th, Netherlands 6th, USA 7th, Sweden 8th and  Poland 9th.

Canada was eliminated from the team competition when Capital ridden by David Marcus reared several times near “C” and was excused, thus leaving his country with only two combinations and not the three required.

Most attention, however, was focused on the prospects for medals, especially for the host nation before their hometown fans.

The stingy judging–many combinations have ridden before the same judges and scored much higher in recent international competitions–brought grumbling from some of the riders.

Laura Bechtolsheimer admitted she was “baffled” and “gutted” by her result on the 17-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding (Michellino x Virginia x Ibsen) that she said “was the lowest score I’ve had  in many years and I wasn’t expecting it. It was not a score we needed.” It was, in fact, the lowesr score the world and European championships silver medal pair have been awarded in two years.

“I didn’t feel as if it was my worst performance at all,” she said, “There were strong parts to it.”

There were wide disparities in her scores, as there were with other rides.

Great Britain’s Stephen Clarke awarded the highest result with 80.123 per cent while Wim Ernes of the Netherlands gave her 73.936 per cent, the lowest of the seven judges.

Laura Bechtolsheimer and Mistral Hojris produced piaffe and passage for which they are legendary. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Germany’s sole pair to compete Thursday, Dorothee Schneider and Diva Royal, was only slightly behind the Britons on 76.277 per cent.

Dorothee, who started competing Grand Prix with Diva Royal last December, said, “I loved my test. The atmosphere was fantastic. I am very happy, my horse came in and did her job.”

And while the top British partnership of Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro were to anchor the three-member team in this first stage of the Nations Cup so, too, were the top two Germans–Kristina Sprehe and Desperados and Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill NRW. Kristina and Desperados have scored well above 80 per cent and Helen and Damon Hill near it at top international shows this year.

Dorothee Schneider and Diva Royal. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Nevertheless, Carl was pumped after his ride on Uthopia who is competing for only the second time this year.

“He’s the coolest horse around,” he said, “If I say ‘walk’ he walks. If I say ‘stop’ he stops. He’s a bit ike a computer with a furry body.”

The format of the Grand Prix and the Special deciding team medals, Carl said, could suit Britain because both Valegro and Mistral Hojris are “hot” horses and “having another chance to compete in the Grand Prix Special just might help them.”

At stake in this Olympic dressage competition which has gripped fans around the world, is that Britain has never won a medal of any kind in the 100 years of Olympic dressage competition while Germany has been atop the podium for at every Olympics since Los Angeles in 1984.

The contest for gold was only part of the story Thursday.

Denmark’s 22-year-old Anna Kasprzak and Donnperignon won the hearts of the crowd when they performed without mistake despite riding in the worst of of the heavy rainstorms and finished with an amazing 75.289 per cent that, along wih a result of 71.322 per cent for Anne van Olst and Clearwater, put them in a strong position for their country to repeat as Olympic bronze medalists.

Anna Kasprzak and Donnperignon dancing in the rain on the first day of Olympic dressage. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

When the heavens opened, umbrellas popped up, spectators moved about donning rain gear, shouting to one another over the noise of the heavy downpour.

“He was scared of what was going on but he stayed with me like a real pal,” Anna said afterward of the 13-year-old Finnish Warmblood gelding (Donnerhall x Montserrat x Mozart 1179) that she has been riding only since late last year after her family bought the horse following the European Championships in which he was on the German bronze-medal team.

Anky van Grunsven partnered Salinero in their third Olympics for a score of 73.343 per cent and fifth place individually, having brought the 18-year-old Hanoverian gelding (Salieri x Luna x Lungau) out of retirement to give the Netherlands a shot at a team medal. If Holland succeeds, Anky would win her ninth Olympic medal, a record for equestrian sports.

“This time I am here only for the team,” she said, “not for myself. If it was for my own result I could have stayed at home. I do not have a good chance this time.”

She also was worried about her husband, Sjef Janssen, the Dutch team coach, who was forced to stay in his hotel room because he caught the flu, a cause of concern to Anky who said he was still recovering from an operation for a brain tumor last November. “He is OK but it was a big worry for me,” she said. “I blocked it out while I was in the ring but now I am thinking about it.

“This is the first time in my seven Olympic Games that he has not been here to watch me.”

Anky van Grunsven and Salinero. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Adelinde Cornelissen and Parzival, the No. 1 ranked combination in the world and winner of the 2011 and 2012 World Cup Finals, and Edward Gal and Undercover will ride Friday.

The 19-year-old Morgan Barbançon rode Painted Black, Anky’s former mount, into sixth place with a score of 72.751 per cent.

The youngest rider in the competition and who is coached by Anky, said: “This is the first time I have not been nervous in a competition.”

She and the 15-year-old KWPN stallion (Gribaldi x Litchy x Ferro) had a good warmup for the competition and a really good training session at Greenwich Park earlier this week.

“This helped a lot,” she said, “but I was a bit disappointed with my score, though.”

Morgan said Anky’s advice was, “Treat it as just another competition. Olympics is just a name.”

Morgan Barbançon giving Painted Black a big hug after their first Olympic ride. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Japan’s Hiroshi Hoketsu, the oldest competitor in the entire Olympics at the age of 71 years, was scored at 68.739 per cent with his longtime equine partner, Whisper.

The result placed the pair who are riding as individuals in 17th place after the first day.

Whisper was Hiroshi’s partner at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, his first as a dressage rider, but he competed in the 1964 Olympics in Tokyo as a jumper rider.

Hiroshi Hoketsu of Japan the oldest competitor in London and riding in his third Olympics, two in dressage and his first as a jumper rider in Tokyo in 1964. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The experience of Canada’s David Marcus was the opposite of the Danish combinaiton.

The elimination of David Marcus and Capital left Jacqueline Brooks and D’Niro who rode earlier Thursday–and, incidentally, became the first rider in an Olympics to wear a safety helmet–and four-time Olympian Ashley Holzer and Breaking Dawn to continue as individuals.

“Things were going fine until he spotted a TV camera in the corner,” David said, and the crowds were moving around in their seats due to the rain, and it all went wrong. He doesn’t normally do anything like that. It was totally out of character and I am desperately disappointed.”

Capital with David Marcus holding on, rearing in the Olympic competition arena. © 2012 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Grand Prix individual results after day 1 of 2 (click on the + sign to get a complete score breakdown by judge):

Rk Bib Rider Horse Result +
1 227 Great Britain HESTER C UTHOPIA 77.720 +
2 224 Great Britain BECHTOLSHEIMER L MISTRAL HOJRIS 76.839 +
3 230 Germany SCHNEIDER D DIVA ROYAL 76.277 +
4 213 Denmark KASPRZAK A DONNPERIGNON 75.289 +
5 239 Netherlands VAN GRUNSVEN A SALINERO 73.343 +
6 217 Spain BARBANCON MESTRESM PAINTED BLACK 72.751 +
7 207 Belgium FASSAERT C DONNERFEE 71.793 +
8 255 Denmark VAN OLST A CLEARWATER 71.322 +
9 228 Germany BALKENHOL A DABLINO 70.973 +
10 238 Netherlands VAN DER MEER P UZZO 70.912 +
11 222 Finland LINDH M MAS GUAPO 70.729 +
12 221 Finland KANERVA E SPIRIT 70.395 +
13 251 United States of America EBELING J RAFALCA 70.243 +
14 232 Ireland MERVELDT A CORYOLANO 69.772 +
15 203 Australia OATLEY L SANDRO BOY 69.377 +
16 220 Spain MARTIN DOCKX JM GRANDIOSO 69.043 +
17 234 Japan HOKETSU H WHISPER 68.739 +
18 209 Canada BROOKS J D’ NIRO 68.526 +
19 202 Australia OATLEY K CLIVE 68.222 +
20 247 Sweden TELDE M SANTANA 67.477 +
21 243 Poland RAPCEWICZ M RANDON 66.915 +
22 208 Brazil TAVARES DE ALMEIDA PASTOR 65.866 +
23 241 New Zealand HILL L ANTONELLO 65.258 +
24 235 Morocco RAHMOUNI Y FLORESCO 64.453 +
211 Canada MARCUS D CAPITAL EL