Laura Graves & Verdades 2015 USA Grand Prix Champions
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By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
WELLINGTON, Florida, Dec. 12, 2015–Laura Graves and Verdades held off a late Freestyle winning challenge by Steffen Peters on the veteran Legolas Saturday night to win the United States Grand Prix Championship presented by the Dutta Corp.
The musical performance victory by Steffen and the 13-year-old Westfalen gelding on a score of 77.675 per cent was not enough to overcome the lead built up by Laura and Verdades winning the Grand Prix and the Special at the Festival of Champions.
Laura and the 13-year-old KWPN gelding that she has owned since her parents bought the horse as a foal, scored 75.125 per cent in the pair’s second appearance at the championships being held for the first time at the Global Dressage Festival grounds.
Laura, 28 years old, of the central Florida community of Plymouth and Verdades, ranked No. 15 in the world, ended the record-setting string of seven victories in seven championships competed in by Steffen Peters over the past decade, including 2012 through 2014 on Legolas and in 2011 on Ravel, now retired.
Steffen of San Diego, California placed third with a score of 74.950 per cent in the Freestyle on Rosamunde, the eight-year-old Rhinelander mare on which he is ranked 23rd in the world.
On Legolas, ranked No. 8 in the world, Steffen placed third with a score of 77.675 per cent that he was clearly exuberant about after struggling in the Grand Prix and the Special.
The combined scores for Laura and Verdades of 76.531 gave them the championship, while Steffen and Legolas were second on 74.015 and on Rosamunde third on 73.741.
Laura explained at the end of the Freestyle where she made some mistakes that she is “still on a sharp learning curve” with an “amazingly athletic horse.”
Since her first Grand Prix with Verdades in February 2014–he is her first Big Tour horse–the pair have competed in only 12 international events that include world and continental championships and a World Cup Final.
Now, she said, she has a totally different mind-set as she heads into the Olympic year. Instead of, “If I do well that’s lucky,” it’s “I can do better.”
“I love the way he feels but I have to learn to get a gauge on that, get him geared up and not make mistakes,” she said.
With the World Cup Final in Gothenburg, Sweden as a goal for next March, “When I get to Sweden I don’t want to have to walk on eggshells but can step on the gas.”
Steffen admitted that he came into this competition not fully geared up because of the time of the year for this championship that is typically held in mid-summer.
However, by the third of the three competitions he was back in “fighting mode” as demonstrated by Legolas’s Freestyle that he described as one of their best ever with the horse’s footfalls being in time with the music.
The Festival of Champions was not a CDI, but to meet Olympic qualifying standards the ground jury included three European judges along with two Americans. The judges were almost unanimous in awarding Laura and Verdades first place, only in the Grand Prix was she placed second by a single judge.
In the three competitions, Laura and Verdades scored 76.460 per cent in the Grand Prix, 77.137 per cent in the Special and 75.125 per cent in the Freestyle.
The duo were ranked 14th of 16 horses and riders to qualify in 2014 for their first Festival of Champions. But the pair emerged as runner-up to Steffen and Legolas that year to get on the squad for a European competition tour that ended at the World Games where they placed fifth in the Freestyle, the highest American combination.
They came into these championships well prepared despite not having competed since the Pan American Games in July where she was on the gold medal squad that earned a team start at next year’s Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. Earlier in the year the duo were fourth in their first World Cup Final, at Las Vegas.