The German duo of Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and the fabulous TSF Dalera BB claimed the coveted FEI Dressage World Cup™ title for the second time in their spectacular career when winning the deciding Freestyle competition at the 2023 series Final in Omaha, USA.
They arrived at the American fixture as firm favourites but looked vulnerable in Wednesday’s Grand Prix when the 16-year-old mare was super-excited to return to competition after a few months’ break.
Dalera was right back in the zone that saw this superstar partnership scoop all gold at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games and again at the FEI European Championships in 2021 before putting their names on the FEI Dressage World Cup™ Roll of Honour 12 months ago in Leipzig (GER).
It seemed likely that Wednesday’s Grand Prix result, in which von Bredow-Werndl’s compatriot and longtime legend, Isabell Werth, finished second with DSP Qantaz and Denmark’s Nanna Skodborg Merrald and Blue Horse Zepter finished third, would be replicated. But the Danish pair, who seems to have come out of nowhere in the last few months, produced a spectacular performance to demote five-time series champion Werth to the third step of the podium this time around.
The field was further reduced to 13 starters following the withdrawal of The Netherlands’ Marieke van der Putten’s Torveslettens Titanium RS2, but the Omaha crowd were still treated to a feast of fantastic sport. They didn’t hold back when the riders encouraged them to join in with the excitement.
Second into the ring, Lithuania’s Justina Vanagaite had them right behind her as she rode her one-handed final line with Nabab, but it was Simone Pearce and Fiderdance who were holding the lead at the halfway stage when the Australian rider’s cheeky wave at the crowd before coming to a halt was followed by the best score to date, 76.575.
Raised the game
The last remaining Dutch contender, Thamar Zweistra, raised the game when the action resumed with a super test from Hexagon’s Ich Weiss that put 78.204 on the board. “I was really proud of him,” she said. “The one-tempis were amazing; he did about 25 in a row and he was really relaxed. I had a lot of fun. He has a lot of energy and that’s what I like about him; he is always willing to work!”
But with four left to go, it was Werth and DSP Qantaz who set the new standard when posting 85.671 for a performance that oozed class. The smile on her face showed that 31 years after she first won the prestigious FEI Dressage World Cup™ title, the 53-year-old athlete is enjoying herself as much as ever. The crowd adored her Bonnie Tyler themed musical score, bursting into wild applause as she drew to a halt. She was still laughing with delight herself after leaving the ring, knowing that she had nailed her tough floorplan.
“It was super and I was so happy! This was our best Freestyle together, and he was so with me that it was perfect! I really love this Freestyle – it is so difficult and there’s no time to breathe or to think about what is going on – I’m in one tunnel and each step has to come after the next and it worked really perfect today!” she said.
Then von Bredow-Werndl took the floor, and with mesmerising piaffe/passage and half-passes in both trot and canter that seem even more fluent than ever before, they soared out in front when putting a massive 90.482 on the board.
“She was incredible; she went in with no wet hair (sweat) because I didn’t do a lot outside, but she was so wet because of the atmosphere. It was really hot in there and she again was a little bit scared, but she trusted me 100%; that was the difference tonight. I was confident and we were mirroring each other; she was confident and I got confident. She was excited but she trusted me from the very first step,” the delighted 37-year-old rider said.
America’s Steffen Peters, series champion in Las Vegas (USA) back in 2009, was second-last to go and, always a crowd-pleaser and especially on home ground, he slotted in behind Werth with a mark of 83.921. Now only Skodborg Merrald and Blue Hors Zepter were left to run, and it seemed the top two places were already decided, but the Danish duo were having none of that.
There’s something very special about the relationship these two have established in a very short time. The chestnut gelding, formerly ridden by both her Danish counterpart Daniel Bachmann Andersen and Sweden’s Patrik Kittel, is blossoming like never before, even though he is already 15 years old.
“He was really on fire. I had to be so careful all the way around; it was a bit difficult to come back after extended canter, but I’m so thrilled! My journey with him has been so short; we have only been together for four months and I have the feeling I can ask for so much more – he is amazing!” she said after posting 87.146, which put her onto the second step of the podium.
She sees even greater potential in the year ahead. “To score higher, I need to get to know him better, but for now I just need to take it easy and be happy with the way it is, and I think it will come slowly. The judges have to get to know him also,” said the 29-year-old athlete who, with Zepter’s sire Blue Hors Zack, was a member of the Danish team that made history with victory at last summer’s FEI Dressage European Championship on home soil in Herning (DEN).
“He gives such an amazing feeling; he wants to do so much. Already in the warm-up, I could feel it and I wondered if I should have worked him more in the morning, because we only did walking,” she explained.
“But I just had to work with him and make him comfortable and get him to listen to me, and he gives such a good feeling. The only thing I want to change now is the music, because I think the theme is a bit weird – ‘Time to say goodbye’. It is lovely music and it fits him perfectly, but the theme could be a little happier so I will change that!” she said with conviction.
New double-champion, von Bredow-Werndl, won’t be changing her French-themed Freestyle music anytime soon, and insisted that it is “just a nice coincidence” that she has adopted it ahead of the Paris 2024 Olympic Games.
“I always loved (French singer) Édith Piaf… this music gives me goosebumps, especially on the last centreline,” she said.
Talking about her return to the sport just a couple of months after giving birth to her second child, daughter Ella Marie, who arrived last August during the FEI World Championship, she said, “It’s just a passion to get back in the saddle as soon as possible, because I just love what I do and so do my horses, and they made it pretty easy for me to come back that fast!”
Her second win puts Germany on level pegging with The Netherlands with 13 wins each in this series, which in 2023 celebrates its 36th anniversary. She has a long way to go to catch up with compatriot Werth, who has five wins under her belt, or Dutch superstar Anky van Grunsven, who recorded a phenomenal nine victories during her amazing career. But with Dalera, she is out on her own right now.
“Dalera is such a special creature to have in my life. She makes everything possible – she is a dream!” said the newly crowned 2023 FEI Dressage World Cup™ champion.
by Louise Parkes
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