January 14, 2011 -- It was a big story when the Florida leg of the Exquis World Dressage Masters, the discipline's biggest show in the Western Hemisphere, was cancelled.
Now there's another big story: The WDM is back. It will be held March 9-11 with the USA's number one dressage rider, Steffen Peters, flying in from California with Ravel to take part.
Equestrian Sport Productions, which runs the Palm Beach International Equestrian Center in Wellington, decided in November after two years of losing money presenting the series' opening segment that it couldn't make the numbers work for 2011. But the WDM got together with a growing presence in the sport, Wellington Classic Dressage, to resurrect the show at the Jim Brandon Equestrian Center, not far from PBIEC.
With Wellington's International Polo Club and Steffen's sponsor, Akiko Yamizaki, as backers, the show will go on, and on. There's a three-year contract with Wellington Classic Dressage, insuring WDM's immediate future in this country.
"It's pretty exciting that we were able to recover this great show," Steffen told me yesterday from California, where he was competing. He had been tremendously disappointed when the WDM was called off.
"I'm just hoping this is enough notice for the Europeans to get the top riders over there," he added.
The show, which originally was supposed to run at the beginning of February, offers 100,000 Euros in prize money, and there's a prestige factor besides.
"It's a CDI 5-star," explained Steffen, noting that is important in terms of world ranking points for riders. He added, "There are not too many shows in the U.S. besides the World Cup, the World Games and Olympics where we can get the European horses to America. That to me gives dressage in America such great momentum, and Akiko and I felt we didn't want to lose that."
Since the cancellation, he and Akiko had been working with the husband and wife team of Noreen O'Sullivan and John Flanagan from Wellington Classic, as well as WDM's John van de Laar, to make this happen. Steffen hopes the WDM, which is awaiting final approval from the U.S. Equestrian Federation and the FEI, can go back to its original dates next year because it's a good way to start the season.
Steffen has a lot of decisions to make in connection with this trip East. He is considering doing the Palm Beach Dressage Derby, which is a World Cup qualifier the week before the Masters. However, in order to make the cut for the World Cup Finals in Leipzig, Germany, at the end of April, he needs two qualifying shows, and the Masters isn't one of them. He would have to fly back to California for a qualifier in Los Angeles at the end of March, and then, less than a month later, fly to Germany.
The big question is whether all that showing and traveling will be too much for Ravel, and he's sorting that out now.
The WDM will have its finale on a Friday night so as not to interfere with the Challenge of the Americas dressage (with which Noreen and her husband also are involved) at the polo club the following evening, and the polo match on Sunday.
The week of the WDM "will be a great destination type of trip for people from the north who are fighting the cold weather," John Flanagan said.
He noted that immediately after the cancellation, he started getting phone calls.
"They asked if we could work together to keep it here this year and in future years," said John. "We were willing to make the commitment and got the financial support needed to make the event possible."
"We were willing to make the commitment and got the financial support needed to make the event possible."
Akiko noted, "I am very grateful for WDM's commitment to keep the show in the U.S. and for Wellington Classic Dressage and the other sponsors who have stepped in to make a 2011 show a reality. Quick actions and decisions were necessary and it all came through thanks to great efforts by all involved."
While the neat and utilitarian Jim Brandon facility lacks the glitz of the PBIEC, Wellington Classic does have the capability of bringing in grandstands. However, John said it would be "more of an intimate Masters" this year than it was in the PBIEC stadium, where Steffen came to compete with the likes of Anky van Grunsven and Isabell Werth. The WDM series continues in Europe with stops in Munich, Germany; Falsterbo, Sweden and Hickstead in England.
Wellington Classic already runs five dressage shows, and is upgrading the Derby site, Equestrian Estates in Loxahatchee (about 20 minutes from Wellington). As I said, it's a rising star. Its willingness to take on the Masters speaks well for the ever-more-prominent presence of top-rate dressage in the Wellington area.
And who knows? Perhaps dressage will return one day to the PBIEC, which is without any shows in the discipline this year, more's the pity.