Dutch team rider Hans Peter Minderhoud is on target with Flirt bagging the Grand Prix victory at the 2016 World Cup Finals in Gothenburg, Sweden, on Friday 25 March 2016. The Grand Prix only counts to arrange the starting slots for the Kur to Music, but is a good indicator of who the contestants are for the title.
The 2016 World Cup Finals are judged by Irina Maknami (RUS), Mariette Sanders-Van Gansewinkel (NED), Susan Hoevenaars (AUS), Susanne Baarup (DEN), Evi Eisenhardt (GER), Anne Gribbons (USA), and Gustav Svalling (SWE) and after the major controversy at the final Olympic qualifiers at the beginning of the month with the FEI admitted to nationalistic judging, it was expected to see these 4 and 5* judges to close ranks and show unification. The American based Anne Gribbons has been the odd one out before, not being often exposed to the European big names. This had a clear advantage of her judging more with a clean slate, despite the fact that she totally over-estimated Totilas at the 2015 European Championships,. In today's Grand Prix she showed true to the principles of classical dressage and was strict on all those riders showing poor contact with the bit or movements not even closely approaching the standards and guideliness beautifully set in the FEI Judges Handbook. Today it's a thumb's up for Gribbons.
Hans Peter Minderhoud and the Austrian owned and Swiss bred Flirt (by Florestan x Gauguin de Lully) were on outstanding form today and probably rode the best test in their career so far. The obedient chestnut gelding was very consistent in the bridle and willing to the aids. The halt at entry was not square, but the trot extensions were good and the half passes had much crossing over; the one to the left being the better one. The rein back was good. Unfortunately the passage was not entirely even today and towards the end of the test the right hind leg was dragging more and more. The piaffes were well on the spot and much better balanced than before. The extended walk was super, but in the collected the horse paced. The judges didn't mind the laterality as they still scored the collected walk 5 up to 7.5! The hindquarters in the flying changes to the left sway, but overall the tempi's were very ground covering and well ridden. The canter extension was expressive, the change at the end of the diagonal crooked. The canter pirouettes were good but in the onset to the one to the right, the horse started to double beat behind (score 7.5 - 9). The final piaffe at X was nice. Minderhoud produced a very well ridden, controlled test, which could shine even more if there was a bit more lightness in the contact. They earned a 76.871%
Swedish Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven was the third rider to go in the class but that early start did not work as a disadvantage. Aboard Antonia Axson Johnson's Hanoverian gelding Don Auriello (by Don Davidoff x White Star), Vilhelmson brought her usual class to the ring. The horse is always soft and light in the bridle and makes it all look easy, but there were quite a few inaccuracies. The halt at entry was not immobile. The horse produced not enough overstep in any of the three trot extensions, despite all the leg flash in front, and in passage the horse still doesn't engage from behind. The piaffes were lovely though and the extended walk was top class. The tempi changes were big, but the two's needed more straightness. The zig zag was very well ridden and the pirouettes were good, even though the horse could generate more lift in front. They scored 76.500% for second place.
Swedish Patrik Kittel and his 17-year old Dutch warmblood stallion Scandic (by Solos Carex x Amiral) slotted in third. The chestnut still looked willing but his mileage showed today. The trot extensions were not 100% pure in the rhythm despite the good overtrack and in the pasage the horse got uneven with more right hindleg activity. The hindlegs trailed in the half pass to the right, the left one was much better. Scandic dragged his feet in the rein back, but stood out with his bounce in piaffe and passage. Especially the transitions in and out were fantastic. In the extended walk, the horse covers good ground, but loses clarity in the 4-beat rhythm. In the collected walk he gets lateral and he made an early transition to passage. The canter work was expressive with big tempi changes and a bold extended canter that already started in the corner. The horse got a bit wild at the beginning of the ones. The pirouettes were good. The final halt was stretched. They scored 76.400%.
Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and the 15-year old Dutch warmblood stallion Unee BB (by Gribaldi x Dageraad) finished fourth. The black stallion was very steady in the contact and produced smooth half passes and extensions. The passage had good buoyancy and has improved in engagement. The piaffes were secure. Unee BB jogged in the collected walk (score 4 - 5.5). The canter work was solid with a very good zig zag, big tempi changes though he started croup high on the ones. The self carriage in the left pirouette could have been better, the right one was slightly big. The final centerline was lovely. They scored 75.257%
The judges were quite unanimous about the top five pairs. Danish Anna Kasprzak was very strong on her 17-year old Finnish warmblood Donnperignon (by Donnerhall x Mozart), with outstanding tempi changes, but still struggling in piaffe. The sixth placed pair, however, was a different task for the ground jury. Three weeks ago a panel of five miraculously scored Inessa Merkulova and Mister X 82% in the Grand Prix, a score approaching that of Olympic champion Valegro. The FEI said that no nationalistic or partial judging took place in Moscow because all five judges were high. They defended their high score stating remarkable improvement in the combination. Today the truth of their words would be tested in Gothenburg. Merkulova and her brilliantly talented Russian bred Mister X (by Egeus) scored 73.957% with 76.700 (Russian judge Maknami) as high score and 71.300% (American judge Gribbons) as low score.
Nobody questions the talent and quality of Mister X. The horse has a fantastic piaffe and passage, a good extended walk and is very expressive in all three basic gaits. Today, he lacked some overstep in the first trot extension, but the second one was better. The extended walk was very good, but all three, beautiful piaffes were early on the marker. The strike-off to canter from passage was laboured. The tempi changes were good, but the rider stands in her stirrups and swings her body. Her unsteady position in the saddle meddles with the quality of the changes, also at the end of the extended canter diagonal, as well as with the contact in the bridle. The horse opens his mouth throughout the test because Merkulova seems to need the support of the bit to position her in the saddle. The final passage on the centerline was world class, the piaffe was 4 meters before the marker and the horse anticipated the end halt, dropping out of passage. They scored 73.957% but there is more in the tank.
The World Cup Finals will be decided on Sunday noon with the Kur to Music.
Text by Astrid Appels