American Bookends of Valegro’s Historic Career–From Hello, to Triumph, to Farewell

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Where are we? Valegro arriving in New York after a trans-Atlantic flight accompanied by Alan Davies, his long-time international groom who has been a center of the horse's life. Photo courtesy of Alan Davies
Where are we? Valegro arriving in New York after a trans-Atlantic flight accompanied by Alan Davies, his long-time international groom who has been a center of the horse’s life. Photo courtesy of Alan Davies

Sept. 20, 2016

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

The arrival in New York of double Olympic individual gold medalist Valegro on Tuesday for an exhibition at the Central Park Horse Show is a bookend to American highlights of an historic career spanning the past six years.

Three appearances of Valegro and Charlotte Dujardin in the United States are among only four outside Europe–the other being the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro last month–for the KWPN gelding that made history ridden by Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin as the star of Britain’s first Olympic dressage medals in a century of the sport and only the third combination to ever win two individual Olympic golds.

The American chapter for the duo began at the CDI4* World Dressage Masters in Florida in January, 2012, 10 months after Charlottee, little known outside her English homeland and an assistant to Carl Hester started the KWPN gelding’s Grand Prix career.

After initial successes on the Continent, Charlotte and Valegro, then nine years old, were named to Great Britain’s team at the European Championships in Rotterdam in 2011.

As part-owner and trainer of Valegro that he had picked out in the Netherlands as a youngster along with Uthopia, Carl had made a choice about who would ride Valegro. At the first championships for both horses, he decided to ride Uthopia and Charlotte Valegro on the team with Laura Tomlinson (then Bechtolsheimer) on Mistral Hojris and Emile Faurie on Elmegardens Marquis.

“As wonderful as Uthopia may be,” he told dressage-news.com at the time, “Valegro may have a slight edge on him from a presence point of view. The girl can ride. I don’t want to see the opportunity to ride for Britain go to waste. And Charlotte is one of the most incredible, driven and capable riders. Ridings is her passion as it is mine.

“To be honest, it’s given me a new enthusiasm to be able to work with someone who is riding at the same level, who is driven. We don’t have holidays and days off. It’s given me renewed enthusiasm for the sport because I had gotten worn down after so many years competing at the top levels of the sport.”

Carl and Uthopia placed first individually and Charlotte and Valegro were fourth in the team competition. Charlotte and “Blueberry,” as she called Valegro, placed sixth in the Special and ninth in the Freestyle.

First international championship for Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro on Great Britain's gold medal team at the European Championships in 2011. Laura Tomlinson on Mistral Hojris (left), Carl Hester on Uthopia, Charlotte on Valegro and Emile Faurie on Elmegardens Marquis. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
First international championship for Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro on Great Britain’s gold medal team at the European Championships in 2011. Laura Tomlinson on Mistral Hojris (left), Carl Hester on Uthopia, Charlotte on Valegro and Emile Faurie on Elmegardens Marquis. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Laura and Mistral Hojris had been the top combination on the British team that won silver and individual bronze at the European Championships at home in Windsor in 2009 followed by team and two individual silver medals at the World Games in Kentucky in 2010.

Rotterdam was a changing of the guard at the top of British dressage that to then had never won an Olympic dressage medal but with the 100th anniversary of equestrian sports at the Games to be staged in London a year away.

Four months after the Europeans, Charlotte and Valegro were invited with Carl and Wie Atlantico to the World Dressage Masters in Florida, one of a lineup of a half dozen trans-Atlantic competitions each with €100,000 (US$130,000 at the time) in prize money.

Charlotte and Valegro came into the event with a Big Tour record of 16 starts with eight victories, ranked No. 5 in the world behind Carl and Uthopia and Laura and Mistral Hojris.

The West Palm Beach performance was awarded 78.648 per cent for second place in the Grand Prix behind Steffen Peters on Ravel on 81.383 per cent, a career Grand Prix personal best for the hometown favorites.

Charlotte Dujardin on Valegro completing the 2012 CDI4* Grand Prix in Florida that was the pair's first and, as it turned out, rare appearances outside Europe. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Charlotte Dujardin on Valegro completing the 2012 CDI4* Grand Prix in Florida that was the pair’s first and, as it turned out, one of three appearances outside Europe. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The Freestyle was won by Steffen and Ravel, the 2009 World Cup champions and double bronze medal pair at the Kentucky World Games the year before, with 83.700 per cent.

Charlotte and Valegro were scored just 0.05 per cent further back at 83.650 per cent. The two second places in Florida became part of the historic record of 12 times in the total of 61 Big Tour starts in the entire career of the pair that were not first place finishes.

Steffen Peters atop the World Dressage Masters medals podium, Charlotte Dujardin second and Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfvén of Sweden third. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Steffen Peters atop the World Dressage Masters medals podium, Charlotte Dujardin second and Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfvén of Sweden third. © 2011 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

The pair were not to be denied after Florida.

For the next 22 starts over 27 months, Charlotte and Valegro would not finish out of first place–the emotional and competition high of team and individual golds at the London Olympics in the summer of 2012, individual and freestyle golds and team bronze at the 2013 European Championships, the duo’s first World Cup title at Lyon, France in 2014 then individual and freestyle golds and team silver at the World Games in Normandy in 2014. And the pair were on a run at world No. 1 for 36 months.

The second American show for Charlotte and Valegro came at the final of the World Cup, the annual global championship decided by the freestyle, at Las Vegas in 2015.

Challengers included Isabell Werth who had won twice before, at this same venue on Warum Nicht in 2007 and on Fabienne in 1992; Steffen Peters on Ravel title winners at this same venue in 2009, and Edward Gal during his time on Totilas in 2010. All were on different horses.

Charlotte and Valegro triumphed.

Charlotte Dujardin on Valegro in Las Vegas celebrating their second World Cup title. © 2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Charlotte Dujardin on Valegro in Las Vegas celebrating their second World Cup title. © 2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Since then, the couple that have entered the pantheon of British athletic stars and recognizable around the world have won individual and freestyle golds and individual silver at the 2015 European Championships and individual gold and team silver at the 2016 Olympic Games.

Valegro’s competition career with Charlotte as rider will ve over later this year.

“Blueberry” and Charlotte, 31 years old, will give an exhibition this weekend in Central Park in the heart of one of the world’s great capitals in a tribute before an audience appreciating one of the greatest horses.

The farewell by Valegro at 14 years of age will be, aptly, at the Olympia Christmas show in London.