2015 World Cup Finals Preview - Valegro is Coming to Town

Wed, 04/08/2015 - 19:08
2015 World Cup Finals

Las Vegas, USA knows all about welcoming stars, and this weekend another big name can expect the red-carpet treatment when he arrives in the entertainment capital of the world ahead of the 2015 World Cup Dressage 2014/2015 Final.  Cameras flashing, TV crews following his every move and the frenzy and razzmatazz that goes with super-stardom are all in a day’s work for this handsome, talented and sophisticated athlete whose fancy footwork has broken every record in the book in recent years.

Super-hero Valegro, the Dressage horse with the Midas touch, is coming to town. And the Lord of the Dance has top billing as he battles to claim the supreme title of indoor Dressage for his rider, Great Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin, for the second year in a row when the action gets underway at the Thomas & Mack Arena on Thursday 16 April.

He comes with a full supporting cast and crew that includes the man who created one of the most exciting Dressage partnerships of all time, Dujardin’s friend, mentor and trainer Carl Hester. However, reclaiming the World Cup title will be no walk-in-the-park for the daring British duo, their back-up team or their army of fans. Because there are plenty of pretenders to the throne.

Former winners

Major contenders include three former winners: Germany’s Isabell Werth, The Netherlands’ Edward Gal and the USA’s Steffen Peters. Werth’s stellar career has seen many meteoric moments, including victory with Fabienne at the World Cup Final in Gothenburg back in 1992. She was only 22 years of age at the time, and she’s never disappeared off the radar since. One of the most medalled athletes in the sport, she went on to take the title a second time 15 years later with Warum Nicht. And that was 2007 in Las Vegas where she was also runner-up in 2009, suggesting a strong degree of comfort and familiarity when she returns to the scene of her former glory next week, this time partnering El Santo NRW.

Gal brings the horse with which he won the last qualifying leg on home ground last month in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, the venue at which he was crowned World Cup Dressage champion with the great Totilas in 2010. The result promoted him to the top of the highly-competitive Western European League, edging out longtime leader Jessica von Bredow-Werndl from Germany by a single point. Gal’s fabulous gelding, Undercover, who helped claimed team bronze for The Netherlands at the London 2012 Olympic Games, gave a glimpse of the further potential that lies beneath his sometimes nervous disposition that day. And Gal is hoping his horse will grow into the atmosphere at the Thomas & Mack Arena and produce his very best, which would certainly put the rest under pressure.

American winners

There have only been two American winners of the World Cup Dressage title during its 30-year history, so when Steffen Peters and Ravel followed in the hallowed hoof-prints of Debbie McDonald and the great mare Brentina, and did so under the Las Vegas lights in 2009, the celebrations could be heard a very long way off. Peters comes to the 2015 Final on the crest of a wave after a double of convincing World Cup Dressage victories with Legolas in recent months, but the three-time Olympian will be hoping to stay out of the shadow of fellow-American Laura Graves, whose star has been rising at a rapid rate ever since she came under the spotlight in Normandy last summer with Verdades.

Graves is one of the burgeoning generation of young talent benefitting from the legacy of nine-time World Cup title-holder, The Netherlands’ Anky van Grunsven, who remains the undisputed Freestyle queen. When first introduced 25 years ago, Freestyle Dressage to music was considered almost outrageous by the more conservative element in the sport. However it has brought about an explosion of interest in the discipline, with a whole new public enthralled by the sight of horse and rider working in harmony and, seemingly, dancing to their musical score.

So much promise

Germany’s Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and Fabienne Lutkemeier are two more of that up-and-coming generation with so much promise, and with many more show-stealers including Finland’s Terhi Stegars and her much-loved little stallion Axis TSF and Spain’s Morgan Barbancon Mestre partnering van Grunsven’s former ride Painted Black all in the mix, the scene is set for a cracking contest. 
But if Valegro were to design his own stage, then the arena would probably be it. But for a blip in Aachen, Germany last summer, his career has been a series of sensational results since he stole the show in Greenwich Park, London just three short years ago when claiming double Olympic gold. The 167 cms gelding and his rider went on to add the European, World and World Cup titles and, along the way, have reset all three world record scores for Grand Prix, Grand Prix Special and Freestyle.

Their spell-binding performances have won the hearts of spectators all across the globe, and American fans will relish the chance to see them live. Of course in sport, nothing is ever certain, and anyone involved with horses knows that better than most. But one thing is for sure, the  World Cup Dressage 2014/2015 Final in Las Vegas promises spine-tingling entertainment, supreme horsemanship and a worthy winner of the  crown.

Facts and Figures:
New York fashion designer, Reem Acra, presents the 30th FEI World Cup™ Dressage Final at the Thomas & Mack Arena in Las Vegas, USA from 15 to 19 April.
18 athletes from 9 nations will compete.
The countries that will be represented are: Denmark, Finland, Great Britain, Germany, Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, Russia and USA.
Defending champions are Great Britain's Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, winners at the 2014 Final in Lyon (FRA) and Olympic, world and European gold medallists.
Also on the start-list are former World Cup™ Dressage series winners Isabell Werth from Germany (1992 in Gothenburg and 2007 in Las Vegas), America's Steffen Peters (2009 in Las Vegas) and Edward Gal (2010 in 's-Hertogenbosch).
The Netherlands holds the record for most wins in the World Cup™ Dressage series with 12 in total, and nine of those recorded by Dutch Freestyle queen, Anky van Grunsven.
The next most prolific winners are Germany, with eight to date.
The World Cup Dressage Final 2015 will begin on Thursday 16 April with the Grand Prix which is open to all 18 horse-and-rider combinations.
All participants who finish the Grand Prix with a score of at least 60% will continue to the Grand Prix Freestyle which will decide the destination of the 2015 title on Saturday 18 April.

Text by Louise Parkes - FEI Press Release
Photos © Risto Aaltonen - Astrid Appels - Dirk Caremans - Eclips

Related Link
Eurodressage Coverage of the 2014-2015 World Cup show circuit