Even U.S. Dressage Coach Robert Dover—understandably the most enthusiastic cheerleader for American competitors—acknowledges that the Reem Acra FEI Dressage World Cup Final will be won by Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro.
“Valegro continues to be in a class by himself,” Robert said. That’s almost an understatement: Valegro has swept every international championship, from the Europeans to the Olympics and world title. Charlotte, ranked number one in the world, is the Cup’s defending champion, armed by holding all the global records in the discipline.
So she could probably order the engraving on the Cup itself right now, barring a disaster of Biblical proportions. Crazy things can always happen with horses, but Valegro’s star status means everyone else is playing for second place, “until and unless that changes, probably at a venue other than a World Cup final,” Robert observed.
Totilas, yesterday’s sensation, did beat Valegro at Aachen in July last year, but both Robert and Charlotte acknowledge it was her fault. She says she was rusty, and she learned from her mistake by the time of the August World Equestrian Games.
“She lost that; he (Valegro) didn’t,” said Robert of the Aachen debacle.
“You see a month later, that wasn’t going to happen again, no matter who was there.”
Although Totilas did not appear at the 2014 WEG, Valegro was in such form to take the individual honors there that it seems likely he and Charlotte would have come out on top if they dueled again.
Summing up his view of the defending Cup titleists, Robert commented, “That’s an awesome combination.”
But there still will be a battle for the other ribbons in Las Vegas. Favored to be second-best is the Netherlands’ Edward Gal, who took the Cup title himself with Totilas, before the horse was sold to Germany and changed riders. Edward’s ride, Glock’s Undercover, is impressive, but the black stallion also is temperamental, which means he can be beaten if he gets distracted.
The likeliest candidate to take advantage of that is U.S. sensation Laura Graves with Verdades, who amazed the world by finishing fifth at the WEG when few had ever heard of her.
When Verdades won the freestyle at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival March 28, Robert was bursting with pride, as was Debbie McDonald, who trains Laura and Verdades.
“The gaits are superior to anything he ever did,” Robert raved after the competition.
“The musculature that’s coming is superior to anything he’s ever had. It is stellar. There is no finer-gaited horse in the world, and a rider who is so gorgeous, cool and collected.
“It’s not only a match made in heaven,” he continued, “but it’s a match that’s a love story, and that’s what’s best about it.”
He was referring to Laura’s devotion to “Diddy,” who became her project after her mother spotted him as a weanling on a videotape made in the horse’s birthplace, the Netherlands.
Robert predicted that having had 2 1/2 weeks to polish things, Veradades will “be between 85 and 90 (percent) with a clean test” at the Cup. He pointed out Verdades’ walk “has an overstride of a foot; that separates him. It’s a better walk than Valegro.” He also cited the height the horse is getting in his trot.
While we’re discussing American prospects, let’s go into detail about Steffen Peters, who won the 2009 title in Vegas with Ravel. He will be in contention next week with his WEG veteran, Legolas. Steffen’s experience and “ring cool” are major assets.
He has been training the sensitive Legolas, who showed tension during an outing in Wellington, to be more confident when he walks into Thomas & Mack, where the crowd is right on top of the arena and electricity zings through the air.
“What I’m excited about is we have two of our top, top contenders going. I feel very good about our chances there,” Robert commented, as he looked forward to the action at Thomas & Mack.
“The growth of our country (in dressage) is palpable.”
While looking at the favorites to do well in the Cup, we have to give close scrutiny to Germany’s Isabell Werth (who won the Cup title in 2007 with Warum Nicht in Las Vegas). She always is a player, and will be showing her usual flair with El Santo NRW, the winner in New York’s Central Park last September.
Her new star, Bella Rose, is staying home, no doubt preparing for a head-to-head confrontation one of these days with Steffen’s rising star (another rose), Rosamunde.
This will be a finals to remember, not only for the competition, but also for the chance to see Valegro in North America, and watch the best America has to offer in the sport. Whatever people have paid for their tickets, it will be worth it.