Touchdown Lands 2024 World Cup Title for Sweden's Patrik Kittel

Sat, 04/20/2024 - 10:47
2024 World Cup Finals
Patrik Kittel wins the 2024 World Cup Finals in Riyadh :: Photo © Dirk Caremans

-- FEI press release by Louise Parkes, edited by Eurodressage
If you want to know how the rides really went, read the Eurodressage Quick Notes - Photos © Dirk Caremans

Patrik Kittel became the second Swedish rider to stand on the top step of the podium at an FEI Dressage World Cup Final as the 37th edition took place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. 

A total of 17 athletes from 12 nations competed in the Grand Prix and fifteen moved on to the Kur Finals.

Fourteen of those got ranked as in a dramatic twist of event the favourite for the title, Grand Prix winner Charlotte Fry and Everdale, got excused before even beginning their test as the horse had bits its lip while entering the competition arena.


Partnering the 12-year-old Swedish warmblood gelding Touchdown (by Quaterback x Sack) he was the very last athlete into the arena on a night when the sport had plenty of twists and turns. Riding with the knife between his teeth he convinced the judges to give him the overall high score of the night for the title, pinning Denmark’s Nanna Skodborg Merrald and Blue Hors Don Olymbrio into second place and German superstar Isabell Werth into third with Quantaz.

This was the ninth Final of his career and his first time on the podium. “I cannot believe it - seriously! My trainer Louise (Nathhorst) won it the first time for Sweden and I’ve won it for Sweden again. I just want to thank everyone for supporting us - I’m very overwhelmed!," he said.

In the end the contest could hardly have been closer, with just 0.257 percentage points separating the top three in an almighty battle for the treasured trophy that was first won by Denmark’s Anne-Grethe Jensen and Marzog in 1986. Current Swedish team trainer Louise Nathhorst won the Finals in 1998 on Walk on Top.

Dramatic turn

Fry and Everdale are excused from competing
Seventh of the 15 starters, Germany’s Matthias Alexander Rath and the Hanoverian licensed stallion Destacado FRH (by Desperados x Londonderry) took the lead on a score of 77.850 and was still out in front with just four left to go. 

That final group of four was led by reigning World Champion, Great Britain’s Lottie Fry, and her Tokyo Olympic ride Everdale (by Lord Leatherdale x Negro) who, after winning Wednesday’s Grand Prix, looked set to do the double. But as the pair prepared to enter the arena, Ground Jury President, Denmark’s Hans Christian Matthiesen, drew the rider’s attention to an issue in the horse’s mouth as blood was spotted on the lip.

An FEI statement tonight explained: British athlete Charlotte Fry and her horse Everdale were eliminated from the Grand Prix Freestyle competition today at the FEI Dressage World Cup Final in Riyadh (KSA). A minor bleed originating from the front gum mucosa was found in the mouth of the horse by the Judge at C, and in accordance with Article 430.7.6 of the FEI Dressage Rules, this results in elimination. Elimination under this rule does not imply there was any wrongdoing but the rules are in place to protect the welfare of all competing horses.

So suddenly the hot favourite was out of the picture and it was down to the last three to overtake Rath and push for a podium placing.

Fresh and feisty

Skodborg Merrald’s experienced Dutch warmblood licensed stallion Blue Hors Don Olymbrio (by Jazz x Ferro) had been fresh and feisty in Wednesday’s Grand Prix, but tonight the 16-year old was much more focused and, to a brand new musical score, lifted the level of competition with the first over-80% result when putting 81.429 on the board - their flying changes and canter pirouettes proving particularly pleasing to the judges.

The 2024 World Cup Finals podium: Merrald, Kittel, Werth
Second-last into the ring would be Werth, a longtime legend in her own lifetime who was chasing the sixth World Cup title of her sparkling career but whose stallion, Quantaz (by Quaterback x Hohenstein), was edgy in the Grand Prix two days ago. When he entered the arena tonight the 14-year-old horse again found it very challenging as the seven-time Olympic gold medallist explained.

“It was very hard for him because he was really a bit scared about the advertising screens and also the people in the white clothes - it was really hard for him to concentrate! But he was really with me and he tried his best," she said after slotting in marginally behind Skodborg Merrald on a mark of 81.404%.

Last to go

Now it was down to Kittel, last to go. He’s long been something of a Freestyle specialist, but as he pointed out tonight he’d never been last into the ring at a major event and it was a lonely feeling in the warm-up beforehand. He really came into his own this evening however.

His new James Bond themed music is a more gentle accompaniment than usual, and there was something special about his performance, Touchdown really rising to the occasion to put the biggest score on the board when just fractionally ahead of Skodborg Merrald at 81.661 to clinch it.

Looking at the breakdown of scores, six of the seven judges had him second, one judge (Peter Storr) had him first. The panel was also divided on the placings of Merrald and Werth. Only two saw Merrald win, while three judges had Werth first. The top three finishers landed 0.2% from each other in that 81% range, quite below their freestyle personal best score (Kittel 85.905% in Falsterbo 2023 / Merrald 84.03% Amsterdam 2024 / Werth 88.407% Riesenbeck 2023).

"I think this moment is something I will never forget," Kittel said afterwards. 

He talked about watching his trainer, Louise Nathhorst, seal that only other Swedish World Cup victory as a young boy 24 years ago in Gothenburg and the inspiration it gave him. It was the second podium place finish for Kittel in his long career. In 2011 he won kur bronze aboard Scandic at the 2011 European Dressage Championships in Rotterdam. At that time he was trained by Dutch Sjef Janssen.

Kittel and Touchdown win
Reflecting on what he achieved tonight he said, “I cannot believe it - seriously! Touchdown just flew with me today. I had to try to control my nerves all day but he was just unbelievable! The power and the fighting spirit that he showed for me is the biggest win. The winning of the show is unbelievable but to go in with so much atmosphere - before I came in the audience was going crazy - but he just stayed with me and I cannot thank him enough!”, he added.

Second Twice

This was the second year in a row for Skodborg Merrald to finish as runner-up. “It’s unbelievable finishing second for one more year”, she said, “but my horse felt so great in there and I’m super-thrilled being able to be second between those two super rounds (winner Kittel and Werth in third).”

As always, Werth simply relished the battle.  

"It’s such fun when you have three on the podium with 0.257 between them, it was very close and it was very exciting," she stated.  "Of course Quantaz was a bit affected by the atmosphere but I’m very happy with him. This is what I love to do, I’m a real competitor and I like it especially like this when it is so close, with so much energy and so many emotions, that’s what makes the sport really exciting. Today any one of the first three could win and that was what made it so great also for the public."

For Kittel it was a lifetime goal realised, and he was filled with joy.

“To stand here as World Cup champion! You always hope, you always want to win, but to actually win??!! That’s just so awesome!!”, he said. 

Kittel will fly home with 88,000 euro of prize money into his pocket as the 2024 World Cup Finals in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia boasted the highest purse ever for a finals.

- Photos © Dirk Caremans - NO REPRODUCTION ALLOWED

Related Links
Scores: 2024 World Cup Finals
Eurodressage Coverage of the 2024 World Cup Finals