August 26, 2014 -- The German dressage juggernaut is back. After losing the gold in the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games to the Netherlands and in the 2012 Olympics to Great Britain, the nation with the biggest reputation in the discipline soundly defeated those rivals, as the Grand Prix ended today with a series of brilliant rides.
Charlotte Dujardin, double gold medalist from the Olympics, boosted her team's prospects as she did in London with a breathtaking effort aboard a brilliant Valegro. They were first on every judge's card and topped the leaderboard with a score of 85.271, bringing Britain's total to 231.343 percentage points. That was well behind Germany's 241.700, but a nice promotion from the bronze that the Brits were expected to get. The Dutch wound up with that one on 227.400 percent, while the U.S. finished fourth with 222.714.
Sweden (sixth), Denmark (seventh) and Spain (fifth) all had been touted as nations that could beat the U.S., but a solid showing from the riders with the stars and stripes on their saddlepads turned back those challenges.
The U.S. obviously is on the rise. Fourth is much better than the sixth-place finish the country had in London. That's the good news.
The bad news is that missing the podium means America must win gold at next year's Pan American Games to qualify a team for the 2016 Olympics in Rio. The only other way the U.S. can qualify is by putting together individual riders ranked high enough to have a composite team.
Valegro made quite a comeback from a performance in Aachen last month that had people wondering if this Pegasus had lost his wings. He was sixth in the Grand Prix in that German show, with trouble in the one-tempi lead changes during a heat wave that distressed Charlotte. But the disaster was a wake-up call for her, and she responded in great style today. I was transported watching her, and the crowd loved every minute of it.
The one tempis? They were a piece of cake, as we discussed when I talked with her this afternoon. Listen to what she said about them. (She mentions teammate Michael Eilberg in this soundbyte, in case you don't get the reference.)
Charlotte was far ahead of today's first rider, Germany's intrepid Isabell Werth on her new star, Bella Rose. Isabell held the lead on 81.529 percent until Charlotte rode late in the afternoon. I was looking forward to seeing Bella Rose again tomorrow in the Grand Prix Special, an individual medal test open to the top 30, but Isabell withdrew her this evening because of a hoof problem. She's the latest in a series of big names who have been 2014 WEG dropouts, sadly.
The U.S. had two stars today, Laura Graves and Steffen Peters, both of whom qualified for the Special, along with Adrienne Lyle, who rode Wizard yesterday and is in 24th place.
Laura, who began her international career this summer, shone on her wonderful Verdades, with the exception of a bobble in the walk portion of her test. She wound up in 10th place on 74.871 percent, and should be able to demonstrate what her horse can do at the walk in tomorrow's Grand Prix Special.
Laura was buoyed by Debbie McDonald's decision to fly here last week and help her and Adrienne in preparation for the WEG last week. Singing Debbie's praises, Laura noted she advised her to change her bits, something that is important because Verdades broke his jaw after getting a wolf tooth caught on one of the bars of his stall years ago. He's still wearing some of the hardware from that injury and has a hole in his mouth.
Here's what Laura had to say about her ride.
Steffen, the veteran who was in danger of being eclipsed by adorable newcomer Laura, showed he still has it with a test scored at 75.843 percent for eighth place. It was, however, marred by his bete noir with Legolas, mistakes in the one-tempis. But he explained that and gave credit to his wife, Shannon, who rode the horse when he was hospitalized with pneumonia earlier this summer.
Steffen won individual bronze in the 2010 WEG with the now-retired Ravel, but is not in as strong a position this time around with the likes of Charlotte; Germany's Helen Langehanenberg (Damon Hill NRW, third place, 81.357) and the Netherlands' Adelinde Cornelissen on a refreshed Jerich Parzival (fourth place, 79.629) are on the hunt, along with several other big names.
But a bigger contrast with 2010 is Edward Gal of the Netherlands, who swept the golds on Totilas four years ago. Not only was Totilas sold to Germany, which meant Edward lost the ride, but his current star, Glock's Undercover, injured his spine and had to stay home. He rode an understudy, Glock's Voice, instead and was disappointed with his tie for 22d place on 72.414 percent.
When I was talking to Edward, I noticed he had an unusual stock pin, a gold pistol. And then I realized, "Of course, it's a Glock."
I always admire Edward's cool, which was saluted in the music played while he rode, Lady Gaga's "Poker Face."
This is just background music that sort of keeps things humming, we're not talking freestyle, so don't get confused. Some of the other musical choices were less accurate.
A Brazilian rider, for instance, performed to "La Cucaracha" and "Spanish Eyes." Whoever selected the tunes obviously doesn't realize Brazilians speak Portugese.
I've mentioned some of the candidates for individual medals, but there are several others with a good shot and more than that whose rides will be enjoyable to watch. The top 15 from the Special, by the way, will go for another individual medal in the freestyle on Friday.
I'll tell you all about the Special in my next postcard tomorrow evening.