Las Vegas, Nev., April 19, 2007 -- Isabell Werth, the favorite to win the Rolex FEI World Cup Dressage Final, took the first step today with a victory in the Grand Prix on Warum Nicht.
Her score of 74.792 was far from her best with the chestnut Hanoverian, but she was playing it cool to see how the gelding reacted to the small arena at the Thomas & Mack Center, where the enthusiasm of the crowd is a big factor.
Hannes, as her horse is called by his friends, put in a tiny spook just before he cantered down the centerline, but after that, he was on the same mission as his rider.
America could have a shot at a top medal in this final, as Steffen Peters, who finished second with 72.875 percent, showed his horse, Floriano, had lost none of the style and aplomb that made him the top-scoring U.S. rider at the 2006 World Equestrian Games.
The title will be decided Saturday night in the musical freestyle, which undoubtedly will be playing to a packed house. The difference between Isabell and Steffen, though is that she wasn't doing her best, and he was conservative on only one movement.
The Grand Prix only counts for the order of go in the finals, so it was understandable that some entries gave it less than their best. What was hard to determine was whether they were doing it on purpose to save their mounts--or doing their utmost.
Max, the mount of Kyra Kyrklund of Finland, was interested in entertaining the audience of nearly 9,000, so his score of 71.708 is probably close to what he'll be able to achieve on Saturday. It was good enough for third, with Imke Schellekens-Bartels of the Netherlands fourth on Sunrise (71.708).
All the Americans qualified for the finals, which are open only to the top 12 riders. Courtney King was eighth with Idocus (67.833), who, like Floriano, is a venerable 17 years old. One place behind was Catherine Haddad on Maximus JSS (66.750). Leslie Morse scored 64 percent on Tip Top (who is by Master, the same sire as Max) to finish dangerously close to the cut-off in 11th place.
Check back on EquiSearch.com tomorrow morning for more on today's activities at the World Cup Finals.