USA Prospects for 2016 Olympics After National Grand Prix Championships

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Laura Graves and Verdades with coach Debbie McDonald at the U.S. Grand Prix Championships. © 2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Laura Graves and Verdades with coach Debbie McDonald at the U.S. Grand Prix Championships. © 2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

WELLINGTON, Florida, Dec. 13, 2015–With newly minted Grand Prix champions and an eight-year-old mare being likened to Ravel, United States coach Robert Dover is increasingly optimistic America could return to the Olympic medals podium in 2016 after an absence of 12 years.

In Laura Graves of Plymouth, Florida and Verdades and Steffen Peters of San Diego, California and Rosamunde Robert said “you see the ability to go over 80 per cent” in the Grand Prix and the Special.

If both combinations could come close to that mark, with a third horse and rider able to produce a result in the mid-70 per cent range the United States could have a shot at earning the first medal since taking bronze at Athens in 2004 for the fourth straight Olympics.

After Laura and Verdades and Steffen on Legolas and Rosamunde, Allison Brock of Wellington, Florida and Rosevelt had the best results in competing at home and in Europe in 2015 with an average of 72.69 per cent in their highest two Grand Prix scores and 74.215 per cent in the Special.

To provide perspective, the 2014 World Games in Normandy were the last global championships and could offer a rough guide as to what a team needs to land on the podium.

The average of Germany’s top three combinations on their gold medal team was a staggering 80.566 per cent, for Great Britain’s silver medal team it was 77.114 per cent and for the Netherlands on bronze it was 75.800 per cent. The U.S. was fourth with an average of 74.238 per cent. Germany had two 81-plus per cent horses and riders and the third at 78 per cent while Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro scored above 85 per cent for Britain.

The U.S. Championships presented by The Dutta Corp. at year’s end came much later than the typical mid-summer schedule. Many American Big Tour horses were below peak readiness with the intensive Florida and California winter circuits still a month away. Although not a CDI, three European who judge frequently in the United States were on the five-member ground jury.

Even so, Robert Dover said that if Laura and Verdades had been able to produce pirouettes in the Special that they did in the Grand Prix a day earlier, “I think in all honesty… that would have been 80 per cent so I’m very excited about that.”

Both Robert and Steffen talked of the similarities between Rosamunde, that will be nine next year, with Ravel, the KWPN gelding now retired at the age of 17. Steffen rode Ravel in the 2008 and 2012 Olympics, won two individual medals at the 2010 World Games and the 2009 World Cup as well as being the only U.S. horse to be a member of the exclusive 80 per cent club for horses that attain that score at Grand Prix.

Steffen Peters and Rosamunde2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com. ©
Steffen Peters and Rosamunde2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com. ©

The championships were an Olympic squad qualifier, but the wide open Florida and California winter circuits from January into April will be more critical for hopefuls. Florida’s Global has seven CDIs including a 5* that Steffen will bring both horses to join other combinations from around the world for the richest event in the Western Hemisphere. California will stage four CDIs.

About eight combinations will be selected to go to Europe for observation events between May 2 and July 1 when the final team of four combinations and reserves will be selected to go directly to Rio de Janeiro.

“I think we have a wealth of talent here,” Robert told dressage-news.com during the championships, “and some that we haven’t even seen arrive yet.”

In addition to the top three placings of Laura on Verdades and Steffen on Legolas and Rosamunde, the most successful at the championships staged at the Global Dressage Festival grounds for the first time were:

–Shelly Francis of Loxahatchee, Florida on Doktor, 12-year-old Oldenburg gelding  and Danilo, 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding;

–Allison Brock on Rosevelt, 13-year-old KWPN stallion, that was sidelined before the Freestyle when an old cut became infected, and

–Katherine Bateson-Chandler of Wellington on Alcazar, 10-year-old KWPN gelding, who trains with Carl Hester in summer and Debbie McDonald in winter.

Allison Brock and Rosevelt at the U.S. Grand Prix Championships. © 2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Allison Brock and Rosevelt at the U.S. Grand Prix Championships. © 2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Among others who did not compete in the championships but may, according to some trainers and riders, be in the mix during Florida’s winter circuit  are:

–Sarah Daehnert on Half Moon Delphi, 13-year-old mare that was ridden by Michael Eilberg on Great Britain’s medal winning teams at the 2014 World Games and 2013 European Championship. Bob Price, a Chicago area industrial designer, bought the horse last summer for Sarah to seek a spot on the American Olympic team. She trains with Swedish Olympian Patrik Kittel.

–Lisa Wilcox of Wellington, one of the United States’ most successful international riders, on Pikko del Cerro HU, 12-year-old American-bred stallion, and Galant, a nine-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding that Lisa began competing at Grand Prix three months ago.

–Charlotte Jorst of Reno, Nevada who competed her 12-year-old KWPN stallion Kastel’s Nintendo at the championships and also plans to compete Kastel’s Akeem Foldager, the 13-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding that was ridden by Andreas Helgstrand for the Danish team at the 2013 European Championships, on Wellington’s Global circuit this winter.

–Sabine Schut-Kery of Thousand Oaks, California and Sanceo, the nine-year-old Hanoverian stallion that was a young horse star and she competed at Small Tour on the gold-medal winning team at the Pan American Games. She is expected to begin international Grand Prix early next year.

Kasey Perry-Glass and Goerklintgaards Dublet in the Grand Prix at a national show at the Global Dressage Festival show grounds in Wellington. © 2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Kasey Perry-Glass and Goerklintgaards Dublet in the Grand Prix at a national show at the Global Dressage Festival show grounds in Wellington. © 2015 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

–Kasey Perry-Glass who recently moved from California to base herself in Wellington and Goerklintgaards Dublet, 12-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding that she competed at Small Tour in both Florida and Europe this year. This weekend, the pair performed their first two Grand Prix at a national show in Wellington, scoring above 70 per cent in both.

–Olivia Lagoy-Weltz of Middleburg, Virginia and Lonoir, 11-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding, that was competed at Small Tour on both sides of the Atlantic this year.

“We’ve stepped up everything in preparation for the Olympics, Robert said. “Training sessions on both sides of the country. The amount of funding is unprecedented. In all aspects of the energy and momentum that we have going into 2016, I couldn’t be more hopeful.”