World Cup that Wasn’t in Las Vegas, Isabell & Weihegold’s Bid for Historic 4 in Row Delayed, Disappointed Champion Steffen Peters, Farewell to Verdades at Home
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April 12, 2020
By KENNETH J. BRADDICK
This was to be the 35th final of dressage World Cup, an event that this year in Las Vegas would have been memorable for the possibility of an historic fourth in a row title for Isabell Werth and Weihegold OLD, the return of a reinvigorated Steffen Peters to the arena where he became only the second American ever to win the championship and the retirement of Verdades that was sure to produce buckets of tears.
The 18 rider and horse combinations from around the globe would have been in Las Vegas by now for the Final at the expanded and renovated complex around the Thomas & Mack Center that hosted the dressage World Cup on four previous occasions.
The lineup had not been announced as the last of the qualifiers in North America was not held and the last in Western Europe was called off midway through the event.
However, Isabell and Weihegold had already fulfilled the two competitions required of the defending champion while Steffen Peters on Suppenkasper and Canada’s Leslie Kellock on Sasebastien were the top two combinations in North America with three scores as needed.
The cancellation of the annual global championship centered on the Grand Prix Freestyle due to the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic may not see the same confluence of emotions for the home audience when the final is staged in Gothenburg, Sweden next year.
For top sport, the focus would have been on Wiehegold, the Oldenburg mare on which Isabell is ranked No. 2 in the world, behind only her and Bella Rose. Weihegold, 15 years old, was ridden by Isabell to win the World Cup Finals in Omaha in 2017, Paris in 2018 and Gothenburg in 2019. The victories brought the German rider’s total titles to five so far–the first on Fabienne in 1992 then on Warum Nicht at Las Vegas in 2007.
After Las Vegas, Isabell at the age of 50, would have gone on to the Olympics and, had the Games not been postponed could reasonably be expected to add to the 10 medals she already has as the most decorated equestrian in Olympic history.
Anky van Grunsven, the queen of the Freestyles, has nine titles–including three successive wins on Bonfire plus two more after a break of two years, and three straight on Salinero. The Dutch rider and Sjef Janssen, former Netherlands team coach, wed in Las Vegas after she won her seventh championship in 2005, the first time dressage and jumping World Cup Finals were held together.
Steffen Peters, whose equestrian center in San Diego is about 330 miles/530km from Las Vegas, has competed in five World Cup Finals with five different horses.
The pinnacle was to take the 2009 title on Ravel on a score of 84.950%, with Isabell on Satchmo just 0.450% back as runner-up. Before then, Debbie McDonald on Brentina had been the only American World Cup champion when she was named the winner at Gothenburg in 2003, but was denied the on-the-spot celebration as the highest scoring horse was later found to have been doped.
Postponement of the Olympics, Steffen said, was “personally not as disappointing as (cancellation of) the World Cup in Las Vegas. That is a very special arena to me. Just hearing the name ‘Thomas & Mack Center’–the name ‘Thomas’ reminds me of Parry Thomas who is considered one of the fathers of Las Vegas and a very, very good friend of mine, a man I really looked up to and still do, rest his soul. He was such a special person and I enjoyed very single minute talking to him.
“Knowing exactly what that stadium looks like, what it feels like to compete in there, I visualize so much about this particular stadium. I felt like when I went there I became the World Cup and everything merged. The idea of competing there and doing well came together in 2009. I’m quite disappointed that it didn’t happen. But the World Cup will be in Omaha in 2023 and one day when Mopsie (Suppenkasper) and I are not getting too old, I’m hoping the World Cup will be in Las Vegas again.”
Parry Thomas was a successful banker in Las Vegas whose contribution to the University of Nevada-Las Vegas led to naming the competition arena, used primarily for the school’s Runnin’ Rebels basketball team. With his wife, Peggy, he owned Brentina.
Verdades, the Dutch-bred gelding that was bought from a video to be ridden by Laura Graves to 2016 Olympic team bronze, team and individual silver at the 2018 World Equestrian Games in Tryon, Pan American Games team gold and individual silver as well as the first American partnership to become No. 1 in the world, was to be retired during the World Cup.
The retirement of the 18-year-old horse at Las Vegas was apt–the pair were runner-up to Isabell and Weihegold the three straight times the German pair took the title, a string unprecedented since creation of the World Cup.
Some other aspects of the Final that won’t happen include what would have been the possible appearance for the first time of Spain’s Juan Matute Guimon, the 22-year-old who grew up Wellington, Florida but returned to his homeland of Spain for college and to develop his riding, and Germany’s Benjamin Werndl and his kid sister, Jessica von Bredow-Werndl, competing in the same senior championship for the first time.
Also, Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin on her first international championship musical performance on Mount St. John Freestyle. The 2018 World Games in Tryon was called off before the freestyle and the pair were eliminated in the 2019 European Championships Grand Prix.