Steffen Peters & Legolas Repeat as USA National Grand Prix Champions
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
LEXINGTON, Kentucky, Oct. 12–Steffen Peters won his second straight United States National Grand Prix championship with Legolas Saturday night to set a record of seven titles by a rider that broke a tie with Robert Dover’s six championships.
Steffen said Saturday night’s Freestyle under lights was the best the pair have performed and was awarded 79.450 per cent, among their highest scores since the pai hve compted together in less than two years. But it was not a CDI and four of the five judges were Americans. The result brought championship result for the Grand Prix, the Special and the Freestyle to 76.476.
Günter Seidel and Coral Reef Wylea scored 76.450 per cent for the Freestyle, and their three-competition result was 72.404 for reserve champion while Kathleen Raine and Breanna posted 70.225 per cent for fifth place in the Freestyle but their results from the Grand Prix and the Special put them in third overall with 71.213 for the championship.
Steffen’s seven championships have come over an 18-year span–with Udon in 1995, Floriano, Lombardi, two with the now retired double Olympic mount Ravel and now two with Legolas. Lombardi, Ravel and Legolas were owned by Akiko Yamazaki.
The three top placegetters were all from California and along with Brian Hafner on Lombardo LHF made up half of the starting lineup of eight horses and riders in the Grand Prix championships being held at the Kentucky Horse Park for the first time and which drew few spectators.
The championships brought combinations from across the country for ponies, juniors, young riders, Brentina Cup Under 25, Intermediate and Grand Prix. While the total number of entries was the smallest in five years, horses and riders came from 22 states, including perhaps the largest number ever from outside the traditional strongholds of the East and West coasts.
“It was the best freestyle we have done so far,” said Steffen of San Diego. “It felt absolutely fantastic in the warmup and I kept telling Jo Hinnemann I hope I can keep this in the ring. It can change very quickly when the music kicks in.
“Today we hit it off from the first step. Legolas felt as supple as he did in the warmup. He stayed with me and we stayed with the music all the way. I couldn’t be happier.”
Günter of Cardiff said that Coral Reef Wylea, the 13-year-old Westfalen mare that was bought for him last November to compete and he has shown in California and Europe during the summer as did Steffen and Legolas and Kathleen and Breanna, was better than in the Special.
Kathleen of Murrieta joked that she “had my hands full tonight” with Breanna in the Freestyle with several mistakes and then got a lesson from Jo Hinnemann in honor round etiquette when the 13-year-old Hanoverian mare reacted to everything.
“It was not our best night,” she laughed.
Gary Rockwell, an FEI 5* judge and one of four Americans on the ground jury, said he was “greatly relieved” with much improved performances by Steffen and Günter.
Good music and good choreography produced much more sophisticated freestyles that were at a high level, he said.
“Everybody seemed to be able to show off their horses at their best, and the weather cooperated.”
An issue for the top United States riders has been created by the emergence of the Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida as one of the world’s premier circuits with biggest prize money and more CDIs that have the advantage of attracting more European riders.
Robert Dover, the U.S. Chef d’Equipe, has elevated the World Cup Final to be held in Lyon, France next April as a championship America should seek to send its best horses and riders although the World Equestrian Grames in Normandy, France in late summer remains the major focus.
“When you have a night like tonight, the World Cup could be tempting,” said Steffen who captured the title on Ravel in 2009.
“It’s a very tough decision,” Günter said.
Like Steffen and other top California riders, the Florida circuit has been penciled into Günter’s calendar for 2014.
“It’s a dangerous game you’re playing, you can wear your horse out,” he said referring to a schedule of a California-based combination competing in Florida, returning to California, going to the World Cup in France if wining one of the two places reserved for the North American League, returning to the U.S. for WEG selection trials in early June then, if qualified for the team, returning to Europe.
“You have to really weigh how much your horse can take and plan the year ahead.”
GRAND PRIX FREESTYLE
Judges – E: Zang-USA H: Gribbons-USA C: Rockwell-USA M: Gardner-GBR B: Lamping-USA
Championships Final standings: 2013 FOC Grand Prix Division