World Cup Series Shaping Up as One of Most Competitive Moves to Higher Gear in Western Europe With North America’s Top Qualifiers Set for Winter

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Isabell Werth in Paris in April clinching her second straight World Cup title on Weihegold OLD. © 2018 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Oct. 11, 2018

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

A World Cup series that could be one of the most competitive ever moves into higher gear next week with the start of an expanded Western European League, the last of the four geographic groups around the globe to launch competitions for a final in Gothenburg, Sweden next April that will be the freestyle deferred from the washed out Tryon World Games.

Several of the 15 riders that qualified for the Tryon musical performance have made known their intention to compete for the 18 starting places at Gothenburg whch will host both dressage and jumping finals of the annual world championships.

This will be the first time no muiscal performances were staged since freestyles were first scheduled at Olympics, World Games or European Championships, adding significance to the 2019 World Cup.

Isabell Werth plans to defend the title she won the past two years, and four since the series was launched 34 years ago. The German superstar is second in total victories to Anky van Grunsven of the Netherlands who won the World Cup nine times.

The four leagues are Western Europe, that gets to fill nine spots, half of the 18 available at the final; North America of the United States and Canada that gets two starting places; Central Europe made up primarily of the former Soviet Union centered in Russia and what it considered its satellite states though many were fiercely nationalistic, Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia also gets two slots, and Pacific League of Australia and New Zealand with one place. The other four places go to the defending champion; a non-league combination, and two extra starting places.

Western Europe gets underway at Herning, Denmark next week, the first of 10 qualifiers. The other events are: Lyon, France Oct. 31-Nov. 4; Stuttgart, Germany Nov. 14.-18; Madrid Nov. 22-25; Salzburg, Austria Dec. 5-9; London Dec. 17-23; Mechelen, Belgium Dec. 26-30; Amsterdam Jan. 24.-27; Neumünster, Germany Feb. 14.-17, and s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands Mar. 14-17.

Isabell, as defending champion needs to compete in only two events on the horse she wants to take to the final, plans to begin her campaign in Lyon. As in recent years she is expected to compete in enough shows on her three top horses–Weihegold OLD, world No. 2 and her mount for successful World Cup campaigns in 2017 and 2018; Emilio, world No. 3, and her favorite, Bella Rose, world No. 4 that she rode for both team and individual gold medals at Tryon. Bella Rose’s last competition before an injury time-out almost four years ago was the World Cup event in Stuttgart in 2014.

Olympic and World Games team mate Dorothee Schneider, who has already picked up 15 points from a competition appearance in Central Europe is also seeking a start in the final. So, too, is Helen Langehanenberg, World Cup champion in  2013 on Damon Hill, who will ride the American-owned Damsey FRH. Compatriot Benjamin Werndl also has 20 points from an event in Central Europe.

Cathrine Dufour, at 26 years old Denmark’s top ranked rider on Cassidy ranked No. 5 in the world, will start with Bohemian at Herning in the campaign for her first Final berth. Although only eight years old, the Westfalen gelding has logged four wins in seven starts since beginning Big Tour six months ago. A minor injury kept Cassidy out of WEG, and the 15-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding is being aimed for the second year of the Top 10 in Stockholm at the end of November.

Charlotte Dujardin told dressage-news.com she plans to campaign Mount St. John Freestyle in the series, London Olympia high on the agenda. Charlotte and the nine-year-old Hanoverian mare vaulted to No. 6 in the world after their performances at WEG,  their first international championship–leading Great Britain to team bronze and taking individual bronze. Carl Hester, her coach and mentor, said he’s taking a pass on Hawtins Delicato this year.

Charlotte Dujardin on Mount St. John Freestyle celebrating medal-winning performance at the Tryon World Equestrian Games. © 2018 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Netherlands’ Edward Gal, a champion on Totilas in 2010, Adelinde Cornelissen, titleholder on Parzival in 2011 and 2012, and Hans Peter Minderhoud who captured the title at the Gothenburg arena in 2016, may contend for a start.

With the final at Gothenburg, Sweden can be expected to want as many combinations as possible in their hometown. Combinations qualifying in the top 10 for the WEG freestyle were Patrik Kittel on Well Done de la Roche but who has the proven Delaunay and Deja in his stables, Juliette Ramel on Buriel K.H. and Therese Nilshagen on Dante Weltino OLD. Charlotte Haid Bondegaard snatched a head start in the rankings by accumulating 23 points in Central European qaulifiers, as did Natalie Oldfors with 20 points.

A newcomer to the World Cup western European circuit is Juan Matute Guimon, the 20-year-old rider for Spain who was raised in Florida where he was based until this year. He was on his home country’s WEG team and has opted to base himself in Madrid to develop as a rider and trainer and attend university.

North America may represent the biggest challenge to European prowess, with the most competitive qualifiers starting in January, four at the Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida and three at the West Coast Dressage Festival in Temecula, California. This season, the average of the three best scores, instead of two in previous years, will determine final standings for the two combinations for Gothenburg.

America’s Laura Graves on Verdades was reserve champion in 2017 and 2018, but Laura hasn’t yet made up her mind as her priority is the welfare of her horse. “Diddy” will be 17 years old in 2019 with a record of Olympic team bronze, World Games team and individual silver, the best ever result for an American at a combined global championship, and the only U.S. pair to ever become No. 1 as the duo is currently ranked.

Steffen Peters, one of only two Americans to be World Cup champion as he was on Ravel in 2009, six years after Debbie McDonald and Brentina first achieved the feat, admits he’s tempted to make the effort. But he worries about the travel–11 hours by air from Southern California to Amsterdam then at least another 12 hours by road to Gothenburg.

Kasey Perry-Glass on Dublet at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon after the ride that helped the United States to team silver. © 2018 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

World Games team mates Kasey Perry-Glass on Dublet and Adrienne Lyle on Salvino both told dressage-news.com they will seek to be in Sweden, as the beginning of an extended competition schedule in Europe in 2019. Neither are expected to be enlisted for the Pan American Games of mixed big and small tour pairs in Lima, Peru. It is the only international championship aside from the World Cup for the U.S. in 2019. The U.S. qualified at Tryon for the Olympics in Tokyo in 2020 that makes the Pan Ams an opportunity to give up-and-coming partnerships a chance to shine.

Central Europe has been dominated in recent years by Russia’s Inessa Merkulova and Mister X, with 2016 Olympics, 2014 and 2018 World Games and 2015 European Championships on their resume. Gothenburg would be their sixth straight World Cup.

The battle for the two places is tight. Russia’s Stanislav Cherednichenko on Arums are atop the standings and looking to be at his first World Cup Final. Hanna Karasiova of Belarus, who competed at Omaha in 2017 and Paris in 2018, stands second. But with six of the 15 qualifying competitions remaining and at least six pairs from Russia, Belarus and Estonia with the possibility earning enough points, the outcome is uncertain.

Pacific League is the only area to hold a head-to-head league final to select its sole representative. Two of the four qualifiers ahead of the league final Jan. 25-27 have been held so far–Australian WEG team pairs of Alexis Hellyer on Bluefield’s Floreno and Brett Parbery on DP Weltmieser won one each. However, as first and second placegetters in both World Cup qualifiers and CDI3* freestyles can be invited to the league final the selection will depend on the day.

Kristy Oatley, the Germany-based rider on Du Soleil who was the only Australian to make it to the final 15 in Tryon with an Australian record Grand Prix Special score, has not disclosed her plans. She has competed the 14-year-old Hanoverian gelding for Australia at one of the rider’s four Olympics, one of four WEGs and one of three World Cup Finals.

Kristy Oatley and Du Soleil competing at the World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina. © 2018 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com