Germany’s Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and TSF Dalera BB threw down the winning Grand Prix score as the FEI Dressage World Cup™ 2023 Final got underway in Omaha (USA) today. But it was no walk-in-the-park for the pair that claimed the series title 12 months ago while on the crest of a winning wave.
The 16-year-old mare was a little overwhelmed when entering the arena this afternoon, and as the defending champion said “she gave her best but she was too excited today, that’s why the mistakes happened and they cost a lot of points and it’s a shame. I was surprised by how tense she was!”, she added, after putting what would still turn out to be the winning score of 79.922 on the board when ninth to go of the 15 starters.
Runner-up was her compatriot and five-time champion Isabell Werth who was very pleased with DSP Qantaz who earned a mark of 77.485, while Denmark’s Nanna Skodborg Merrald ensured the result would not be a German whitewash when steering Blue Hors Zepter into third ahead of Ingrid Klimke and Franziskus who lined up in fourth.
The field was reduced by the withdrawal of The Netherlands’ Dinja van Liere and Hermes NOP, double bronze medallists at last summer’s FEI World Championship, who were due to run second-last.
Dutch High Performance Director Iris Boelhouwer explained, “today the horse was not fit to compete. Horse welfare is always our number one priority so to respect the horse he was withdrawn.”
First into the arena this afternoon, The Netherlands’ Thamar Zweistra and Hexagon’s Ich Weiss put 73.261 on the board and that was the leading score until von Bredow-Werndl took her turn. Dalera was clearly on full alert once she saw the crowd inside the stadium however.
“When I came down the centreline I felt very confident and I don’t know why she stepped back. She was just a bit over-excited and then in the walk that was super-expensive, she couldn’t wait and it cost too many points”, she said.
On reflection she wondered if lack of competition exposure might explain the reaction of the horse with which she was like an unstoppable force when sweeping all before her at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and the 2021 FEI European Championship before lifting the coveted FEI Dressage World Cup™ title for the first time last April.
En route to this week’s Final she won both qualifiers in which she competed with Dalera, at Lyon (FRA) last October and in Basel (SUI) in January.
“Maybe I should have gone to more competitions in between because usually she’s used to competing, but I didn’t have to because I was already qualified (for the Final) after those two qualifiers”, she pointed out today.
“In the warm-up she felt super like always. But anyway she is amazing, she is extremely fit and that’s what she shows. There were mistakes, but what counts is how her form and performance was in total, and everything was great except the two expensive hiccups!”
In contrast Klimke got off to an excellent start with a perfect first halt from her 15-year-old stallion. A longtime superstar in the sport of Eventing, the German athlete was delighted with her score of 75.543.
“Yesterday was good for him that there was familiarisation with people everywhere, and the first day we were here they were already getting set up so there was lots of noise. Sometimes if noise is coming from above him he is a little bit scared, but this morning he felt so good and today he came into the arena and said here I am!”, she said proudly. She is already looking forward to Friday’s deciding Freestyle competition.
“The fact we are here in the World Cup Final is already a gift and I’m very happy to be here. I’m really looking forward to it because Franziskus really likes the music and knows it inside out so that’s our favourite part!”
She was immediately overtaken for runner-up spot however when Skodborg Merrald was awarded 76.165 for a lovely performance with Blue Hors Zepter.
“I think I had a really good test today. There were some expensive mistakes, I asked him for a little bit more than I have done before because I thought I could improve some things here and there, and then he got a bit tense in the canter which caused the two mistakes - in the two-tempis and before the first pirouette - but I’m really happy with him. He felt good and nice and soft and happy so that was great!”, she said.
The fact that she is acquainted with the 15-year-old gelding for a very short time made today’s result even more impressive.
“I’m only riding him since December so just three full months now and this is only our third show together - we have done just two qualifiers and then today! I really enjoy him, we like each other quite a lot and it’s good ground to be building something here”, she added. Clearly these two are still a partnership in the making.
However they too would be dislodged from that runner-up spot when Isabell Werth and Qantaz took their turn, putting 77.485 on the board.
“I’m really pleased with that because to have him right in shape after two days quarantine, that wasn’t easy and it was a first experience for him. Today I was completely happy because I could feel he was still a bit focused with the atmosphere, but he really tried very hard for me so it was better than I expected.”
She described Qantaz as “a very strong-minded horse, but he becomes more supple and focused and now we are more a team. We grew up together in the Corona time (during the pandemic) with no atmosphere at shows. And then we started with bigger shows in this atmosphere and that was quite difficult to bring him in and calm him down, because it was the opposite before where it was more like a training at home. It was a real challenge, but that’s why I say today I am really happy with the fact he was so with me and focused”, she explained.
She too is looking forward to Friday’s Freestyle finale which will decide the fate of the 2023 title. She knows what it is like to win in Omaha after her victory with Weihegold at this same venue back in 2017, and she’ll be giving it her best shot once again.
“The facilities for the horses here are fantastic, everything is under the one roof and it is just a short distance from the stables to the main arena so that’s fantastic. Now you feel the atmosphere building day by day, so by Friday it’s going to be really special!”
The Freestyle is scheduled for 18.15 local time on Friday evening, so don’t miss a hoofbeat….