The glorious combination of Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro reigned again as Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage champions today, retaining the title as expected with their usual brilliant display of athleticism, harmony and showmanship.
They didn't break their world record of 94.300 percent, but came close. The score was 94.196 for a dance to music as moving and powerful as their presence in the Thomas & Mack Center, where they received a standing ovation from a crowd of nearly 11,000 who knew they had just seen the greatest dressage horse of all time. Two of the seven judges gave Charlotte a mind-boggling mark of 99 for artistic merit.
"I'm just living the dream, coming here and doing what I'm doing. It's an incredible feeling" said Charlotte, before the victory was saluted with a champagne toast.
Valegro, she said, "Goes into that arena to perform. It's the only thing he does. I think he loves the American crowd. It was such a fantastic feeling in there and I just had a really, really good ride and enjoyed it."
The fans were interactive, cheering and clapping during the rides, but it didn't faze Charlotte's horse, and the riders are glad to see the spectators participating.
Since Valegro knows his job so well, "there's no sweating involved. I'm just sitting and steering," she chuckled.
I asked Carl Hester, Charlotte's trainer, friend and a co-owner of Valegro, what this fabulous horse can do for an encore, and for how long.
Click on the arrow on the left below to hear what he had to say.
Valegro's impressive style was the high point of a wonderful afternoon of sport. The low point, sadly, was the elimination of the USA's Steffen Peters after a spot of blood was found on the side of his mount. Legolas, who earned a score of 80.286, would have been fourth. But blood is cause for instant elimination.
It was puzzling, because Steffen is known for his soft style of riding and using spurs without rowels. When I looked at my photos and enlarged them, it appeared he was wearing mild Prince of Wales spurs.
"It is clearly my fault. At the end of the day, I rode the horse and I was wearing the spurs. I'm very embarrassed about it. I'm the one who feels guilty," Steffen, the 2009 World Cup winner, said in a statement he made to Ken Braddick of Dressage-News.com.
U.S. coach Robert Dover guessed it may have happened after a vocal came on as Steffen's music started. It was a cutesie comment, "Hey, I'm Legolas, let's go," but the crowd erupted in laughter after hearing it.
Robert theorized that caught the horse by surprise "and he began to stop a bit. It's possible in that second, when Steffen said, `Please keep going,' the horse pushed into the spur.
"Steffen is a great sportsman and a great ambassador for the sport. He is one of the most sympathetic riders I have ever watched," said Dover, while noting the rules are the rules, and Steffen understands that.
The other American in the competition, Laura Graves, moved up to fourth place after Steffen's departure with a 79.125 percent score on Verdades. He seemed to have gotten over most of his stage fright from Thursday's Grand Prix. Like several other horses, he was upset by the light glinting off the shiny Reem Acra trophy, which was placed near a corner of the ring.
"He was funny, he's a very sensitive horse," she said.
On the bright side, "His very first indoor event, I couldn't be more pleased; there's no way to get better except to keep doing it," said Laura, who now knows she needs to get the horse competing indoors more so she can prepare for the next World Cup finals.
"It's obviously a circuit that we're lacking, (so) that the Europeans have an advantage when they come to Las Vegas."
Laura is such a sympathetic rider. I particularly like the way she strokes her horse, rather than patting him as so many riders do, and they often do it too hard. I look forward to seeing their continued evolution.
Reem Acra, in case you're wondering, is a designer. During a press conference she promised to make a wedding dress for Charlotte, who is engaged to Dean Wyatt-Golding, though a date for the ceremony has yet to be set.
The press conference was hilarious, with Edward Gal--second on Glock's Undercover (84.696)--doing a riff on being the oldest rider on the dais.
"I feel like I'm 25 and after a few operations, I can look like I'm 25," he joked.
Having competed here before, he takes Vegas in stride, but for the younger riders on their first trip to the glittering city, it was an experience.
"Having people screaming and shouting while you're in the arena, it's everything you think it's going to be and I thoroughly enjoyed it," said Charlotte.
Germany's Jessica von Bredow-Werndl, third on Unee BB (80.464), said she came through the casino at 7 a.m. where they were playing slots and loud music and thought, "it can't be true."
Laura agreed, noting that when she left her hotel before 6 a.m. today to ride, "there was still a party in the bar."
In some ways, I would think, it has to be discouraging for everyone who comes up against Charlotte and Valegro, because they always know they're going to lose.
Edward, a former World Cup champion himself, doesn't feel that way, however.
"The best should win," he commented.
"I know Charlotte does an amazing job and it's an amazing horse. It's good for the sport."
I'll have a postcard tomorrow morning about tonight's "Duel in the Desert," which pits jumper riders on cow horses against cowboys on jumpers. Should be interesting. Check back to read about it.