August 24, 20145 -- An array of gorgeous dressage horses and talented riders trotted past the ground jury at the Alltech FEI World horse inspection this morning, a drum roll, if you will, preceding the drama of world championships competition this week at d'Ornano stadium.
It's fun to see what the riders look like without their helmets and top hats, and to view the horses' conformation unencumbered by their saddles.
There were some entries who were feeling their oats in decidedly nippy weather for the early morning screening, but few were there to watch because unlike the trot-up at Rolex Kentucky 4-star eventing, for instance, spectators weren't admitted.
While it's a thrill to catch glimpses of such stars as Great Britain's Olympic double-gold medalist Charlotte Dujardin, former World Cup champion Helen Langehanenberg from Germany and another former Cup champ, Adelinde Cornelissen of the Netherlands, among others, I couldn't help thinking about who was missing.
First and foremost, of course, is Totilas, the horse who swept all the dressage gold medals at the 2010 WEG with the Netherlands' Edward Gal in the saddle. After an absence of two years from international competition, Toto was back in action in a big way this year with German rider Matthias Rath, defeating Charlotte and Valegro twice at Aachen last month--in the Grand Prix (where she finished an inauspicious sixth) and the Special, before going home and leaving the freestyle to Charlotte after she knocked the rust off her performance.
We all were eagerly awaiting their rematch here, on the world's biggest equestrian stage, but a bone spur kept Toto home. That leaves Charlotte as the heavy favorite to capture all the gold, the same way her rival did four years ago.
Another prominent dropout was Glock's Undercover, with Edward, world number three. The horse has a back problem that is not serious, but enough to keep him out of the WEG, as Edward now has to rely on Glock's Voice, a horse who has achieved lesser scores.
The Dutch had another problem when Danielle Heijkoop's Kingsley Siro went lame and Diederick van Silfhout had to sub with Arlando.
So the Germans likely still will take gold based on their strength in depth, but the Dutch are a questionmark for silver, though they still have their former World Cup champ, Parzival with Adelinde Cornelissen, who earned silver at the 2012 Olympics. Parzival is getting on toward equine senior citizenship, and some wonder how he'll perform compared to his previous standard, but he was fresh at the horse inspection and looked to be ready for what is required of him.
Britain had been touted for bronze prior to the dropouts, but perhaps it can move up. The team medal outcome, to be decided Tuesday, isn't as predictable as it was a month ago. I discussed that with Carl Hester, Charlotte's mentor, the architect of British dressage success (they won team gold at the 2012 Olympics) and a team member himself with Nip Tuck.
No one is as informed and as much fun to talk to as Carl. Listen carefully to his soundbyte.
The U.S. horses looked great, of course, groomed to a T and beautifully presented. Chef d'equipe Robert Dover jogged Tina Konyot's Calecto V so she wouldn't hurt her back, and though it's been a few years since he rode in a WEG, he did a very professional job, as one would expect.
If the American team is at its best, it might be able to wind up fourth, though we can always dream of bronze, however unlikely it seems. As Robert told me earlier this year, a problem wtih one horse can change a team's prospects, so you never know (reference: Toto and Valegro at Aachen.)
More possible, however, is a battle for the spot below the podium among the U.S., Denmark (with two U.S.-based riders, Lars Petersen and Mikala Gunderson); Sweden and Spain. The home side is no factor here, as it will be in eventing, show jumping and endurance. But you can bet the largely French crowds will express the same type of enthusiasm as they did for their athletes in the opening ceremonies.
The atmosphere at d'Ornano is, as they say, electric, and it could put another factor into a horse's score.
It will be interesting to watch our under-30 riders, Laura Graves (Verdades) and Adrienne Lyle (Wizard), as they continue adding to their growing reputations. While Adrienne (our Dressage Today blogger) rode in the 2012 Olympics, this is Laura's debut at championship level. If her efforts at Aachen are equalled or surpassed, she'll help boost the team's fortunes. And Adrienne has been putting in some impressive performances with her longtime partner, Wizard.
Calecto is wrapping up his resume, which includes the 2010 WEG and the 2012 Olympics, which means this will be a legacy competition for him. He is capable of a big effort, so we hope this is the time he shines. For Steffen Peters, long the country's top dressage rider, the WEG will be the biggest test he has faced on Legolas, the successor to Ravel, on whom he won double individual bronze at the 2010 WEG.
The importance of the WEG can be especially awesome to those who have never attended an event of this magnitude in person. That's the case with Kim Herslow, the U.S. 2013 Small Tour champ with Rosmarin, who is featured in September's Practical Horseman magazine.
I asked Kim, who is spectating, what she thought about her intro to the WEG.
We start early tomorrow with competition, the first of two days of Grand Prix dressage. Don't forget to check back for my postcard on the action, when predictions meet reality.