Anky van Grunsven and Salinero were in top form Saturday night to win their second straight World Dressage Masters musical freestyle at Palm Beach, beating U.S. favorite Steffen Peters and Ravel and Isabell Werth and Satchmo of Germany.
A crowd estimated at 4,300 spectators ignored a chilly South Florida night to thunderously applaud the three top riders in their first freestyle head to head competition since Steffen and Ravel won the World Cup Final in Las Vegas in 2009. Since then, Isabell took time off to have a baby just three months ago, while Anky says the past year with Salinero has been "bit up and down," just like life.
Anky and Salinero, who won individual gold at the 2008 Olympic Games, scored 84.450%, with Steffen and Ravel on 81.700% and Isabell and Satchmo with 78.950%. Ashley Holzer and Pop Art of Canada were fourth on 76.300%.
The musical freestyle with prize money of €60,000 was the culmination of the opening event of the second year of the world's richest lineup of dressage competitions. The Palm Beach event, as with other World Dressage Masters competitions, carries total prize money of €100,000.
Anky said that practicing Friday in the International Arena under lights "really helped me because today he was really settled down" in her Dance of Devotion freestyle.
"Tonight everything just worked out how it should be," she said. "I was really, really pleased with him. I am very proud."
She said the 16-year-old gelding has already been at the highest level for six years.
"We've had worse competitions and better competitions, but if you have a horse, you know that's life. I'm so proud that he's still fit, wants to do his job, and wants to compete. He's still a happy horse. He likes to compete and do training. It's nice to feel that it's still there. He does get older and settles down a bit, that's nice. It's fantastic to still have a horse like this."
Steffen said that Ravel, on whom he won the World Cup and the three CDIO classes at the World Equestrian Festival CHIO in Aachen, Germany in 2009, "was feeling pretty solid in the changes, so I did it with one hand.
"I didn't have quite the guts to do it in the one tempis. I should have, now looking back, but I was happy.
"I had a lot of horse underneath me, a little bit more than in the Grand Prix. I was careful into the piaffe because I thought he would overreact, but he didn't. That's why I think the first piaffe wasn't that good. The rest of the test was great; I was very, very happy with it..
"Congratulations to both ladies. I usually never get to see them when we compete. I thought Isabell did a hell of a job. I thought Anky's was one of the best freestyles I've seen with Salinero. To be second behind them is fantastic. Even if we had done the one tempis tonight, we would not have won. At the end of the day, it's a big mistake if you start riding the scoreboard. You have to ride your horse and I asked from Ravel as much as he could offer tonight."
Isabell said she was really happy with Satchmo, a 16-year-old Hanoverian gelding, "because he was so concentrated and had a lot of power and energy. He was just brilliant. At the end there was a mistake, but it was OK. Next time I have to do better. Today, except for the little thing at the end, I don't know what I could do better. He gave me a great feeling.
"I had no moment where I could do something more and it was full of difficulties. That's what I wanted to show. He was really concentrated and he didn't react to the crowd, ring, lights. I was just happy with him!"
Earlier in the day, Leslie Morse of Beverly Hills, California, and Tip Top of the United States won the €30,000 Grand Prix Special with a score of 65.708%, with Belinda Trussell and Anton of Canada second on 65.167% and Elisabeth Austin and Olivier of the United States in third place on 64.875%.
Blustery winds in the warm South Florida weather claimed a victim when Germany's Ulla Salzgeber could not get her 10-year-old mare, Wakana, to go forward into the arena for the start of the ride and although she was the hot favorite to win the class she had to excuse herself before saluting, reducing the field to seven from the scheduled eight combinations.
Elisabeth Austin of Williston, Vermont, at age 25 was the youngest rider in the World Dressage Masters.
Leslie Morse, who had not been happy with their Grand Prix ride on Thursday, was ecstatic about winning the Special.
She had not competed Tip Top since returning from Europe last summer after winning the Grand Prix Special at the World Dressage Masters in Hickstead. They were penalized for going off course, but otherwise she was pleased with how the 16-year-old stallion performed.
Because of the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in September, she said, "This was my goal, to be invited to come here. This was a big thing; this was my big trip. Now we go back and do some other CDIs and prepare for our Selection Trials."
Asked whether she thought he was getting too old, Leslie said, "Heck no, he's just getting better. We're just getting the hang of it now."
Michael Stone, president of Equestrian Sport Productions that was organizer of the event, said: "I think the competition was fantastic. We're so pleased to have three of the top riders in the world here in Wellington."
"We had three of the top riders in the world. That doesn't happen every day," added Anthony Kies, Chief Executive Officer of World Dressage Masters. "I was so pleased when I arrived this year to see the improvements made to the stadium. We are very happy to have the Exquis World Dressage Masters here in Wellington, and we look forward to having the event here in the future."
Photos © Ken Braddick and SusanJStickle.com