Laura Graves (30) has been threatening the supremacy of German superstar, Isabell Werth (48), for some time now and today, when it really mattered, the American pinned the most medalled athlete in the history of equestrian sport into runner-up spot in the Grand Prix at the FEI World Cup™ Dressage Final 2018 in Paris (FRA).
Riding her beloved gelding Verdades, Graves was runner-up to Werth and her brilliant mare Weihegold at the 2017 Final in Omaha (USA) a year ago, and a few months later they actually pipped the German duo on Werth’s home turf in Aachen so there was always a question about whether they could do it again. This afternoon they proved that indeed they could, as the big horse she calls “Diddy”, and who she has owned since he was a foal, carried the Florida-based rider to a personal-best winning score of 81.413 with a performance that just oozed everything that’s great about a long-established partnership.
But when Graves was asked at this evening’s press conference how it felt to have Werth sitting beside her in second place, she replied - "it feels very scary, especially with such a fierce competitor because I know she’s going to ride even harder tomorrow!" and she’s probably right about that. Werth didn’t flinch when asked what it was like to be runner-up for once - “well since we are in France I just say, c’est la vie!” she replied.
But all joking apart you could tell that today’s defeat may well be turned to her advantage, because this is a lady with ice in her veins.
She had to follow the US rider into the ring so the pressure was on, and although Weihegold’s piaffe and passage work was as spectacular as ever there was a lack of concentration and the mare didn’t respond to her rider’s leg aids as she normally would in canter. “It’s nothing serious, it happens and it makes it quite exciting! I didn’t plan it like this, but we will try to make it as hard as possible for Laura tomorrow!” Werth said after posting a mark of 78.261.
When asked if she had made the right decision about which horse to bring to Paris, since she could also have chosen to defend her title with her gelding Emilio, she giggled and said “when I call him (Emilio) tonight he will laugh and say it’s your fault that this has happened!”. But Werth pointed out that Emilio is scheduled for the forthcoming outdoor season, “and that’s why I took Weihe here, and I hope tomorrow we will show that it was the right decision”.
German riders Jessica von Bredow-Werndal with Unee BB and Dorothee Schneider with Sammy Davis Jr claimed third and fourth places, while Sweden’s Patrik Kittel finished fifth ahead of young Dane, Daniel Bachmann-Andersen with Blue Hors Zack, in sixth.
However tomorrow’s Freestyle competition, which will decide the fate of the 2018 title, looks set to be a fascinating clash between just two mighty forces - the rising American star who took team gold and individual fourth place at the Rio 2016 Olympic Games and who was only five years old when Werth won the first of her three FEI World Cup™ Dressage titles in 1992, and the German legend whose six Olympic, five World Championship and nine European gold medals are only the tip of the most extraordinary iceberg.
It’s game on - and it’s going to be a fascinating finale. Don’t miss a hoofbeat!
Result - Grand Prix:
1. Verdades (Laura Graves) USA 81.413
2. Weihegold OLD (Isabell Werth) GER 78.261
3. Unee BB (Jessica von Bredow-Werndl) GER 75.667