World No. 1, double-Olympic and European champion and the rider who holds all three world records in the sport, Charlotte Dujardin, became the first-ever Briton to win the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage title at Lyon in France last night.
To the strains of a newly created musical score she steered Valegro, the horse that has taken her to the very top and beyond over the course of the last two spectacular years, to a mark of 92.179 that left her well ahead of defending champions Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill NRW from Germany in second place. The Netherlands’ Edward Gal and Glock’s Undercover revealed more of their increasing potential when slotting into third ahead of Sweden’s Tinne Vilhemson-Silfven and the elegant Don Auriello in fourth.
But it was Dujardin and Valegro who owned the stage and clinched the coveted Reem Acra trophy after receiving a standing ovation from the crowd.
“I’m over the moon, coming here to my very first World Cup Final – it’s so fantastic! This was my first time with my new Freestyle and it was so much fun, this music is great and it was so emotional – it’s all you can ask for…a dream come true really!” the new champion said.
Rising Dutch star Danielle Heijkoop, who celebrated her 27th birthday last Wednesday, set the first strong target when sixth of the 17 starters into the arena. Riding the 15-year-old Kingsley Siro she produced a much more impressive performance than in the Grand Prix, the gelding settling to his job to post an impressive 77.946 which would eventually prove good enough for sixth place.
Russia’s Inessa Merkulova opened the second half of the programme with 73.786 from the gracious 10-year-old Trakehner gelding Mister X whose test was complemented by lovely passage toward the end of his programme.
The Netherlands’ Hans Peter Minderhoud then followed with a great presentation from Glock’s Johnson TN who posted 77.625 before Germany’s Jessica von Bredow-Werndl went even closer to Heijkoop’s leading score with 77.768 from Unee BB.
But it took Sweden’s Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven and Don Auriello to demote Heijkoop from the top of the leaderboard. The World No. 4 rider and her elegant bay set off with the most extravagant extended trot and powered their way into the lead with a score of 80.946. With three left to go that was now the mark to beat, and third-last in, Gal and Glock’s Undercover did just that, maximising their points potential with strong and consistent piaffe although, as the 2010 champion admitted afterwards, a bit of a muddle towards the end saw him lose a rein which hampered his final sequence.
“He (Undercover) was still a little too excited, it was difficult warming up in this environment, he was too over-active and in end (of his test) I lost my rein!” the Dutchman said. His score of 83.696 was immediately overtaken by the penultimate partnership of Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill NRW, but the defending champions temporarily lost communication at the beginning of their test and their eventual score of 87.339 fell short of expectations.
Langehanenberg remained stoic however. “I had two mistakes today, and two is too many. In between I had a great feeling but I took risks and when you take a risk then anything can happen. On the centreline we didn’t start together, but that’s the way it goes – but I’m absolutely happy!” the 2013 champion insisted.
That left the door wide open for Dujardin and Valegro whose presence alone sets hearts beating a little faster. There was enormous curiosity about their new musical score, put together by Tom Hunt using the soundtrack from the Dreamworks animated film How to Train your Dragon. And it proved delightful, with Valegro demonstrating all his hallmark grace, balance, strength, obedience and lightness along with no small measure of personal charm as he cruised through passage and canterwork that was joy to watch before finishing with a daring final piaffe/pirouette. The crowd loved it, and roared their approval at the end, while the Ground Jury responded with the winning mark that left the British duo almost five marks ahead of last year’s winners.
“I had only ridden the test twice at home so I wasn’t as confident as I would be with my other music but I definitely think this is better than my old music. We were just messing around at home when I came up with the idea of the piaffe/pirouette at the end which is technically difficult but, being the super-star he is, Valegro can do it!” said Dujardin afterwards.
It has been some weekend for the 28-year-old who on Saturday broke her own world record score to win the Grand Prix.
She talked about the importance of her new Freestyle music and floorplan. “I think it really is story-telling and you know, it really highlights his (Valegro’s) highlights, his powerful extended canter, it really kicks in for that and obviously the end was the piaffe/pirouette … I was thinking today, what if we make a fluff of it! You think it’s all a good idea until you’ve actually got to do it in there and you’re like ‘uh-oh, what if it goes wrong’ but thankfully it didn’t and what a superstar Valegro is” said Great Britain’s first-ever FEI World Cup Dressage champion as she proudly grasped the prestigious Reem Acra trophy.
Result – Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final Freestyle:
1, Valegro (Charlotte Dujardin) GBR 92.179;
2, Damon Hill NRW (Helen Langehanenberg) GER 87.339;
3, Glock’s Undercover (Edward Gal) NED 83.696;
4, Don Auriello (Tinne Vilhelmson Silfven) SWE 80.946;
5, El Santo NRW (Isabell Werth) GER 79.089;
6, Kingsley Siro (Danielle Heijkoop) NED 77.946;
7, Unee BB (Jessica von Bredow-Werndl) GER 77.768;
8, Glock’s Undercover (Hans Peter Minderhoud) NED 77.625;
9, Noble Dream Concept Sol (Marc Boblet) FRA 74.875;
10, Mister X (Inessa Merkulova) RUS 73.786.