December 12, 2015 -- National Championship competition came to a close Saturday at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival grounds in the U.S. Dressage Festival of Champions presented by The Dutta Corp. In The Dutta Corp./USEF Intermediaire I Dressage National Championship, Christina Vinios and Folkestone OLD maintained their position atop the leaderboard, placing second in tonight's Freestyle and capturing their second National Championship title of 2015. Winning two of the three classes in The Dutta Corp./USEF Grand Prix Dressage National Championship was Laura Graves and Verdades, who added their first ever National Championship title to a year of remarkable success.
The Dutta Corp./USEF Intermediaire I Dressage National Championship
A field of eight Small Tour combinations began the quest for National honors on Wednesday in the FEI Prix St. Georges Test, which contributed 40% towards their final scores. Vinios (Wellington, Fla.) and her own Folkestone OLD took an early lead, winning the class with a score of 70.632%. The following day the competitors performed the FEI Intermediate I Test for an additional 45% of their overall scores. Jane Karol (Concord, Mass.) and her own Sunshine Tour performed brilliantly to win the class on a score of 69.105%. Vinios finished closely behind Karol on day two and maintained her division lead heading into today's Freestyle.
With mere fractions of a point separating the combinations at the top of the leaderboard, this evening's Freestyle tests were eagerly anticipated as they accounted for the final 15% of the championship scores. A relative newcomer to the sport, Vinios and Folkestone OLD performed their pop medley Freestyle this evening for only the second time, scoring 71.000%, enough to secure the National Championship title by .200 of a point.
"It was really fun and I am so happy. I had a lot of fun with my horse this year and to end it like this is really special," said Vinios. "It was intense, but really fun. I loved it."
The pair has proven to be a force to reckon with, as it adds its second National Championship title of 2015 to their resume, having won the Markel/USEF Developing Horse Prix St. Georges Dressage National Championship in August. The pair also swept the CDI Small Tour classes at Dressage at Devon in September.
Shelly Francis (Loxahatchee, Fla.) and her newest partner, Patricia Stempel's Rubinio, put the pressure on their fellow competitors all week. Placing second in the FEI Prix. St. Georges Test on a score of 69.868% and third in the FEI Intermediaite I Test with 67.763%, the pair was wonderfully consistent in the quality of gaits presented. Showcasing great poise, the pair performed its Freestyle to music from "The Man from Snowy River," impressing the judges to take a commanding win in the class on a score of 74.350%, moving them up one on the leaderboard to take Reserve National Champion honors.
"Rubinio felt much more with me [tonight]," explained Francis. "He really put out in the Freestyle - he tried really hard. It went well so I was happy and it was fun. He was excited about it and proud of himself."
Finishing in third overall was Karol and Sunshine Tour. Karol rode a very determined test this evening, taking several risks that unfortunately did not pay off, scoring 64.825%.
The Dutta Corp./USEF Grand Prix Dressage National Championship
Earning their first ever National Championship title were Graves (Geneva, Fla.) and her own Verdades, who won two of the three division classes this week. The pair overcame some bobbles in day one's FEI Grand Prix test to score a 76.460%, accounting for 45% of its championship title. On day two, in the FEI Grand Prix Special, the pair built on its lead with a fluid and dynamic test, winning with a score of 77.137%. Today the gelding showcased his great power, scoring 75.125% in a test that was not without its faults, finishing second in the class.
"He's been feeling really good all week and tonight was a demonstration of how much horse I have now," explained Graves. "I am still on a sharp learning curve and am still learning to ride that horse in that environment. This was our first outing [since the Pan American Games in July] and was a perfect opportunity to figure this out now going into our World Cup qualifiers. He is amazingly athletic and when he goes like that the feeling is unreal. We had some mistakes tonight, but I can't hold that against my horse."
Speaking to the feeling of securing her first National title, Graves said, "I've never been close to this position before so it's a real honor. This is a really encouraging place to be as we begin 2016."
Remaining closely behind Graves in the division standings all week was veteran competitor and winner of the last four Grand Prix National Championships, Steffen Peters (San Diego, Calif.), with his Four Winds Farms-owned mounts Rosamunde and Legolas 92. After disappointing performances for Peters on day one, he was ranked second with Legolas 92 and third with Rosamunde. Day two proved Peters' masterful ability to rise to the occasion. Rosamunde performed beautifully through the FEI Grand Prix Special, scoring a 74.549% and moving up to second on the leaderboard.
Stablemate Legolas 92 earned a 72.412% and dropped to third in the championship rankings by the slimmest of margins. Saturday garnered further positive results for Peters with Legolas 92 executing his crowd-pleasing Freestyle with music from U2 and Vanilla Ice to win the class on a score of 77.675% and take Reserve National Championship title.
"I was super excited. It was one of his best Freestyles. I am so familiar with the routine and I thought even tonight I wasn't just with the music, but I was really with the footfall of every single beat."
Rosamunde performed her second career Freestyle, handling the bustling atmosphere with grace to score 74.950% and place third overall.
All championship competition will be available on-demand on USEFNetwork.com.