Charlotte Dujardin (GBR) and Valegro created a great buzz of excitement with a delightful late-morning test at the FEI European Dressage Championships 2011 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands today that put the British on course for team gold for the first time in the 25-year history of the event. A score of 78.830 from the 26 year old who has been working as stable-rider for team-mate Carl Hester for the last four years, has cemented the British position. And it is now up to Dujardin's boss, Hester riding the exciting Uthopia, and to Laura Bechtolsheimer with Mistral Hojris, to capitalise on the advantage provided by their considerably less-experienced colleague whose score, along with that of veteran Emile Faurie's mark of 70.426 with Elmegardens Marquis, brought the British tally to 149.256.
Germany lies second as the action resumes in the morning, but they are heading the third-placed defending champions from The Netherlands by only just over a single point, so the battle for silver and bronze promises to be a close-fought affair.
Held the Lead
Second into the arena, it was Helen Langehanenberg (GER) and Damon Hill NRW who held the lead after the first tranche of riders completed. But there was a tension about the work produced by the German duo who were awarded a score of 71.079. Meanwhile Faurie's calm, controlled ride on the big bay gelding Elmegardens Marquis included some lovely piaffe, but few could have expected that his compatriot Dujardin would produce a personal-best performance on her debut at championship level to place the British in a position of such strength.
Christoph Korschel and Donnperignon bolstered German chances with a score of 71.444 just before Dujardin entered the arena. But, like Langehanenberg, he admitted afterwards that his test included too many mistakes. "In the tempi changes we are normally good, but we lost a lot of points there and it was disappointing for me, I expected more", Koschel said afterwards.
In contrast, Dujardin had no such complaints. From the outset her test oozed confidence and coordination, her relationship with the nine-year-old Valegro played out through her lightness of hand as they blended together for a flowing performance that began with an average score of 8.9 for extended trot and hardly wavered. It was clear the judges were enjoying what they were seeing, and as Ground Jury President, Poland's Wojtek Markowski, said afterwards, "it was a fantastic ride for Charlotte!".
In her first season at Grand Prix level, Dujardin is already a sensation. "This feels amazing, I'm thrilled even to get here, very excited, very keen and wanting to do well", she said today. Asked if she felt under huge pressure this morning, she explained that Valegro had done all his work to perfection during the warm-up so she was amazed when he produced the same result in his test. But her attitude helps her a lot. "I don't see going into the arena any different from outside. I go down the centre line like I do at home, I forget about where I am and I just concentrate", she explained.
In stark contrast, that centre line has become something of an issue for The Netherlands’ Hans Peter Minderhoud and Exquis Nadine. The mare, now 16, really lost her cool in the closing stages of their test during last year's Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games™ in Kentucky and although she held firm in the earlier part of her test today there was a mistake after the extended canter "and going down the centre line I never know what she is going to do!" the rider admitted. He held her together, but, as he said "I hoped to do a little better". The pair earned a mark of 70.912 which, when added to the impressive 70.578 from relative newcomer Sander Marijnissen riding Moedwill, brought the Dutch tally to 141.490, just 1.033 behind the German first-day total. Nadine of course has had a long and remarkable career that has embraced European and World Championships along with Olympic Games.
All eyes are now, however, on the British going into tomorrow's second-half of the team event. They took team silver at the FEI European Championships in Lipica, Slovenia in 1993, Faurie was a member of the side that claimed bronze at Hickstead in 2003 and two years ago, again on their home turf at Windsor, they were silver medallists once again. It seems the path to gold is clearly laid out before them - but Hester and Bechtosheimer have to take them the rest of the way.
Result (at halfway stage of team championship):
1. Great Britain 149.256 - Elmegardens Marquis (Emile Faurie) 70.426, Valegro (Charlotte Dujardin) 78.830; 2, Germany 142.523 - Damon Hill NRW (Helen Langehanenberg) 71.079, Donnperignon (Christoph Koschel) 71.444; 3, The Netherlands 141.490 - Moedwill (Sander Marijnissen) 70.578, Exquis Nadine (Hans Peter Minderhoud) 70.912; 4, Denmark 138.602 - Jonstrupgaardens Raneue (Lisbeth Seierskilde) 69.970, Exquis Clearwater (Anne van Olst) 68.632; 5, Sweden 134.787 - Bocelli 1044 (Rose Mathisen) 68.024, Lennox (Cecilia Dorselius) 66.763; 6, Spain 134.742 - Faberge (Beatriz Ferrer-Salat) 67.742, Jade de MV (Claudio Castilla Ruiz) 66.900; 7, Switzerland 130.851 - Ronaldo 11 (Markus Graf) 64.696, Rokoko N (Elisabeth Eversfield-Koch) 66.155; 8, France 128.526 - Le Guerrier (Anne-Sophie Serre) 65.152, Passe Partout (Sebastien Duperdu) 63.374; 9, Finland 127.812 - Axis TSF (Terhi Stegars) 68.131, MD Waterford (Alexandra Malstrom) 59.681; 10, Belgium 127.402 - Question de Liberte (Johan Zagers) 62.584, Donnerfee (Claudia Fassaert) 64.818; 11, Norway 124.149 - Orlando (Cathrine Rasmussen) 63.906, Carte d'Or (Camilla Kalseth) 60.243; 12, Poland 68.650 - Martini (Beata Stremier) 69.650; 13, Portugal 67.173 - Ziripiti (Maria Caetano) 67.173; 14, Austria 66.474 - Fabriano 58 (Renate Voglsang) 66.474; 15, Italy 61.292 - Harmonia (Ester Soldi) 61.292; 16, Russian Federation 55.699 - Vodevil (Yulia Vinnitskaja) 55.699.