The Exquis World Dressage Masters Grand Prix on Thursday was the first act of a replay of the 2009 World Cup Final with the same results-Steffen Peters and Ravel first, Anky van Grunsven and Salinero second and Isabell Werth and Satchmo third. The three top finishers from the USA, Holland and Germany were really pleased, for different reasons, with their rides in the €10,000 (US$14,000) Nürnberger Versicherungsgruppe Grand Prix that was watched by an estimated 2,500 spectators. The €100,000 (US$138,000) Exquis World Dressage Masters at the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center is the only CDI5* competition-the highest level of dressage competition-in the Western Hemisphere.
Steffen Peters of San Diego, California, was happy because the 12-year-old gelding, Ravel, with owners Akiko Yamazaki and Jerry Yang looking on from the sidelines of the International Arena, performed better than he did last year when their performances led to Steffen being named U.S, Equestrian of the Year and Ravel Horse of the Year. Their score was 76.851 per cent and they were placed first by all five judges.
Anky van Grunsven of The Netherlands because this is the first major competition for the 16-year-old gelding Salinero in several months and in the hot South Florida weather outdoors. While "some little things could have been better, no major things" for a score of 74.638 per cent.
Isabell Werth of Germany, in her and Satchmo's first competition in almost nine months and just three months since she gave birth to a son, Frederik, who traveled with her for her first visit to Wellington and posted a score of 72.553 per cent.
Ashley Holzer and Pop Art of Canada who lives in New York and Wellington was the only other rider to score over 70 per cent, with 72.468 per cent of which she said, "I'm so happy with the way we went, and in THIS company!" Three of the judges placed Ashley ahead of Isabell, and one gave equal scores.
The four top finishing riders in the Grand Prix will be the final quartet in the €60,000 (US$84,000) Exquis Grand Prix Freestyle to Music under the lights on Saturday night.
The other four riders in the freestyle that starts at 7 p.m. US Eastern Time are the Dutch combination of Christa Laarakkers and Ovation who scored 68.170 per cent in the Grand Prix to tie for sixth place with Germany's Anja Plönzke and Le Mont d'Or who will also start in the freestyle, the USA's Tina Konyot of North Stonington, Connecticut and the stallion Calecto V who tied for ninth place with 65.702 per cent and Denmark's Mikala Munter Gundersen who is based in Wellington and rides Horses Unlimited's Leonberg that scored 65.532 per cent for 11th place.
German Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion Ulla Salzgeber and her mare Wakana finished fifth in the Grand Prix with 69.362 per cent and will be the last of eight combinations to start in the €30,000 (US$42,000) Moorland Grand Prix Special beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Steffen said that in the last six weeks, Ravel "already felt better than last year" when they won the World Cup Final at Las Vegas and the three CDIO events at the World Equestrian Festival CHIO in Aachen, Germany, the first American to do so. "The ride today was one of his best ones," he said. "It felt really good. He felt extremely supple. A little bit more energetic than at Aachen. It's a really good start to the season." Steffen said he changed a few things in the freestyle that gives him an option to increase the degree of difficulty in Saturday night's class. "If he feels relaxed enough, I'm going to go for it on Saturday night, but we'll see.
"If you have a good freestyle, it's almost like a good movie. It's almost extremely difficult to make a good sequel if you don't match the quality. I'm so happy the way things work in the freestyle, that's why I want to be careful and don't go too crazy with it."
Steffen said that although the decision has been made to skip defending their World Cup title at the final in 's-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands, in March, there is still a possibility of returning to Aachen in July in advance of the U.S. selection trials for the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in September.
Anky van Grunsven, who won the inaugural Exquis World Dressage Masters at Palm Beach on IPS Painted Black in 2009, said that Salinero, her Olympic gold medal mount, had "really settled down' in Wellington. "I think I have some little things that could have been better, but no major things," she said. "I was very pleased with Salinero." She came here with her husband, Sjef Janssen, the coach for both herself and the Dutch national team, and their two children.
"We're very concentrated on the competition, but for us it's also a sort of holiday, too," she said. "The children are with us, it's nice weather, and it's relaxed. Of course the competition you want to do well, but the atmosphere is so nice. It's beautiful surroundings. I could stay for two weekends!"
Isabell's ride was before the owner of Satchmo, Madeleine Winter-Schulze who also is making her first visit to Wellington. Isabell's sister, Claudio, takes care of Frederik when Isabell is riding.
"It's funny," she said, "I have made so many competitions but after now eight months without competition, it's really not new again, but you miss the fine tuning. "That's what we have to work for, to get the little mistakes and details away. I felt much better. I was really pleased with Satchmo because after eight months, a long trip, different weather, and such a huge arena, it's really impressive for him and for me. I was really happy that he was quite concentrated." She said that when she talks with her family in Germany, "I feel a bit guilty" because the weather is so cold at home.
"It's my first time here and I'm really impressed with the whole facility and really huge showground. I think it's really made for the horses and the sport. "I said to my owner that it's the first time, but I'm sure it's not the last time here! With the World Cup season, it's difficult to do both and stay here for a few months, but it would be really nice."