March 10, 2011 -- It was no surprise when Steffen Peters won the Grand Prix at the World Dressage Masters with Ravel this afternoon. After all, the Californian had been number one in that class the first two years the Masters was held in Florida.
But this was a bravura performance, more than five percentage points better that his 2009 effort. Ravel has matured and is rock solid, completely unfazed by his new surroundings at Palm Beach County's Jim Brandon Center.
"It was an amazing ride," Steffen said, smiling as broadly as he had when he passaged up the center line at the end of his test and broke into a big grin.
"I think it will always be from now on the ride I compare other rides to. He was so supple, perfectly in front of me. I was able to ride the piaffe a little more in place. A fantastic day; I'm just beside myself."
Judge Cara Witham noted, "I wish I had a 12 to give him" (dressage marks only go up to 10).
Although Steffen has dominated the Masters Grand Prix in Florida, the trophy for the freestyle, which is set for tomorrow, has eluded him. That's the big prize money, $60,000 Euros, compared to 10,000 for the Grand Prix and 30,000 for tomorrow's Special. We talked about that freestyle jinx, and how he might improve his record.
Ravel's score of 80.872 percent was a mile ahead of the runner-up, Steffen's World Equestrian Games teammate Tina Konyot on Calecto V, marked at 72.213. The Danish stallion seemed completely recovered from a bobble last weekend at the Palm Beach Dressage Derby, where an uncharacteristic test put him in the unfamiliar neighborhood of 65 percent.
"I think this is one of my better Grands Prix. This is the right time to do it," said Tina, who turned in a powerful performance.
She finished just in front of Sweden's Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfve on Favourit (71.340), who has been covering herself with glory with several different horses during her first competitive visit to Florida over the last three months.
"It's been such a great time...I had a super opportunity to ride my horses and educate my horses...I couldn't have a better time," she said.
"Favourit was a little bit tense today but I'm still very, very pleased and happy with him."
Several hundred fans turned out to watch, applauding enthusiastically as Steffen led a victory pass executing effortless one-tempis. The freestyle is sold out, with 1,200 people
taking the opportunity to see some very special dressage at Jim Brandon, which is about a 20-minute drive from the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center, where the Masters was held in 2009 and 2010.
With no big names coming from Europe this year, PBIEC officials felt it was not financially feasible to run the competition there. It was cancelled, then reinstated at Jim Brandon with private sponsorship from the Axel Johnson Group (Tinne's sponsor) and the International Polo Club.
Jim Brandon, a nice, utilitarian facility, has been transformed with the aid of grass, flowers, a bar/lounge set-up and tables on which a five-course French meal will be served tomorrow night. The sides of the arena are covered with sheer curtains printed with sunflowers and scenes of Provence, taking it out of South Florida and across the Atlantic.
Competitors praised the effort, which obviously has been considerable, as well as "perfect" footing.
Taking some of the Masters' thunder was today's announcement of a massive dressage ramp-up by Equestrian Sport Productions, which runs the Winter Equestrian Festival. I mentioned this in one of my postcards last week, but today we got more details, revealed during a reception that attracted more than 100 people eager to know the next step in the remarkable saga of the PBIEC.
The old polo fields of Palm Beach Polo, which are diagonally across the street from the current grounds of the PBIEC, will be a devlopment that includes dressage facilities, a covered arena and eventually, condos, an indoor ring and perhaps a major stadium. It all could cost about $100 million before it's finished.
Mark Bellissimo, the managing partner of ESP, was even thinking about hosting the World Cup finals in dressage and jumping there (a bid for the 2018 World Equestrian Games already is in the works.)
One of the prime movers in this project is six-time dressage Olympian Robert Dover, who is now coaching the Canadian dressage team. He believes the key to dressage success for ESP is a series of dressage shows, which would start in 2012.
I'll be back with you Saturday morning with news about the WDM finals, which end late Friday night.