For the first time the two leading heavy weight Grand Prix dressage horses in the world, Germany's Rusty and Holland's Salinero, have come face to face in the show ring.
It was a title match everybody has been looking forward to, a battle of classical dressage versus "modern" (?!) dressage.
Rusty versus Salinero has taken place before, for instance at the 2002 CDI in Dusseldorf, but they were no equals back then. Now, on the hand, Salinero has matured into a complete Grand Prix horse and, for the first time, these two dressage giants are dueling each other in the show ring, in the same league.
In round one, the CDIO Grand Prix class at the most prestigious dressage show of the year in Aachen, Ulla Salzgeber and Rusty were dominating. With a score of 75.833%, Salzgeber led the leader board, but the difference with her biggest rival Anky van Grunsven and Gestion Salinero was very close. The Dutch pair placed second with 75.417%.
Both top riders did not ride at full potential. While Salzgeber had a safe, conservative round, Van Grunsven had to deal with tension problems at the beginning and end of her test. "I'm happy with my test, but there are still some small things that could be better," Van Grunsven said. "I'm in second position now, but not for a moment did I think about my individual score. I think the hot weather in Athens will be much better for more horse than the cool breeze that is blowing here." Ulla Salzgeber confessed that she's preparing her Rusty for the hot Athens' weather by regularly putting him in the solarium.
Placing third in the Grand Prix was, surprisingly, the German combination Martin Schaudt on Weltall VA. The Hanoverian piaffe-passage star Weltall scored 74.375% and has tightened his grip on a spot in the German Olympic team.
In fourth place was American Debbie McDonald on the Hanoverian mare Brentina with 74.167%. McDonald rode her Grand Prix yesterday in the first group of riders and was provisionally in the lead with her score. Now that the two groups are combined, McDonald is still the best scoring American rider.
Robert Dover and FBW Kennedy were unable to repeat the top scores they achieved at the American Olympic Selection Trials in California, but received the more than decent mark of 71.458% which placed them 9th in a field of 39 competitors.
The CDIO Grand Prix class was a nations' competition. Never before in Aachen did the countries rank so closely together as this year. Germany won the Nations' Cup with 220.958 points, while Holland followed in second position with 216.876. The U.S.A. placed third with 213.208 percentage points. Denmark was fourth with 212.167. "We always become more competitive, when we hear how much closer the others are coming," Ulla Salzgeber commented.
The competition in Aachen is for many countries the final Olympic selection trial. While Aachen was meant to be a show in which the teams were to prove their existing top show shape, many uncertainties have already sprung up. For Germany, Heike Kemmer and Ann Kathrin Linsenhoff showed below their level, while Hubertus Schmidt and Martin Schaudt surprised all. In the Dutch team, Antoinette Falandt withdrew because of a lame Jarwo and was replaced by Marlies van Baalen on Idocus, and in the American camp, Lisa Wilcox has chosen not to compete in Aachen at all.
It will take until the final day and final test for the Chef d'Equipes to make their final decision in who to send to Athens for the 2004 Olympic Games.
Text by Astrid Appels - Images copyrighted: Phelpsphotos