Olympic champions, Britain's Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, win through in tense tussle at fifth leg of Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage at London's Olympia

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The electric atmosphere in the gracious Grand Hall at Olympia in London proved challenging for many of the best Dressage horses in the world, but the Olympic gold medal winning partnership shone through.

Olympic champions Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro overcame some nervous tension to reign supreme once again

“at the Olympics there were 24,000 spectators watching, but they were a long way away. Here tonight it was very different, they were so close you could hear them breathing!”

On a night when nerves were truly tested by the close confines of the arena, the pure class of the 2012 Olympic individual and team gold medallists shone through as Britain’s Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro topped the fifth leg of the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage series at Olympia in London, write Louise Parkes. The Grand Hall at this prestigious venue is aptly named, but it is a very snug fit for the dressage ring at the Christmas fixture which attracts packed houses throughout a hectic week of great sport.

As Dujardin pointed out, “at the Olympics there were 24,000 spectators watching, but they were a long way away. Here tonight it was very different, they were so close you could hear them breathing!”, she said after claiming pole position with a score of 87.950.

Runner-up with a mark of 80.075 was double FEI World Cup™ Dressage champion Isabell Werth from Germany whose performance with the 11-year-old Don Johnson FRH left her well pleased. And it was Dujardin’s trainer and mentor, Carl Hester, who lined up third with a score of 79.900. It was an emotional night for the Briton who shared the top step of the team podium at London 2012 with his 26 year old pupil, because Hester was riding Utopia for the very last time. “He’ll be sold in the new year”, the rider confirmed tonight.

Great Expectations

There were great expectations ahead of this fifth leg of the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage 2012/2013 Western European League series. And when Dujardin and her 10-year-old wonder-horse produced another in her long list of world record scores when posting 84.447 to win Monday night’s FEI Grand Prix, then it seemed anything could happen again tonight. But the FEI World Cup™ Dressage Freestyle record of 92.3 set by The Netherlands’ Edward Gal and the fabulous stallion Totilas at Olympia three years ago was never threatened despite some great efforts.

Imke Schellekens-Bartels and the massive 12 year old gelding, Toots, made their canter pirouettes look very easy indeed as the Dutch pair took the lead with a score of 74.875 when seventh of the 15 horse-and-rider partnerships to take their turn. But it was the the 79.900 posted by Hester and Uthopia that they were chasing as the final tranche of riders got underway.

The supreme showman described his performance as “a great last ride”. He said, “I wasn’t emotional coming in, I was quite looking forward to it, but when I finished, you kind of get the feeling for what the horses have done for British dressage, so I did feel emotional coming out. It was a stress-free, enjoyable ride” he explained. British dressage has indeed been through an extraordinary period of change and amazing success in recent years, with Hester at the very heart of it. Looking back at his spectacular partnership with the 11-year-old stallion Uthopia he pointed out that, “the plan always was that he was to be sold, but I do always like to remember that I was lucky to keep the horse for so long”.

Excellent Account

He was followed into the ring by fellow-Briton, Michael Eilberg who is son of world-famous rider and trainer Ferdi Eilberg, and who gave an excellent account of himself with a score of 76.225 from the promising grey mare, Half Moon Delphi which would eventually place them fifth.

But it was Isabell Werth, one of the most medalled athletes in equestrian sport, who took command with a lovely test from Don Johnson FRH with just five left to go. On their first outing in the current series, the German partnership showed power and symmetry that was rewarded with the new leading score of 80.075 to put it up to the remaining four.

Reigning World Champion, Dutchman Edward Gal, overcame some very tense moments to show extravagant extended canter and lovely canter pirouettes for a mark of 74.050 before Dujardin raised the bar to a whole new level.

Valegro however was also on edge, with a nervous moment just before entering the arena. “Something spooked him coming in”, Dujardin explained afterwards. “It messed up the whole beginning, but he settled down in canter. The changes and extensions are quite tough for horses when that happens, but I was actually very happy with them as it turned out” she said.

And so were the majority of the Ground Jury, as she was awarded three maximum scores of 10 marks for her first extended trot along with two more for the one-tempi changes and three further top scores for her one-tempi canterwork.

Sweden’s Minna Telde followed with a strong 77.050 from the brave one-eyed black stallion Santana who would line up fourth, before Denmark’s Sidsel Johansen and Schianto brought the class to a close with another charming effort from Schianto to slot into sixth. But there was no doubt about the strength of the winning partnership - “it was a great way to finish the year” Dujardin said, “I’ve done what I wanted to do here last year”.

Full report at http://www.fei.org

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Louise Parkes
Fédération Equestre Internationale
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