WELLINGTON, Fla.--Laura Graves on Verdades won the Grand Prix Freestyle CDIW on March 2 with a score of 84.975 percent during “Friday Night Stars” under the floodlights in week eight’s headline class of the Global Dressage Festival, the highest score ever achieved at the Festival.
Second-placed Adrienne Lyle on Salvino set another record by recording the highest score in her long international career, 78.275 percent.
Juan Matute Guimon put a couple of glitches aside to log 73.8 percent, good enough for third on his father’s Don Diego Ymas.
The 20-year-old Spanish rider became a U.S. citizen two weeks ago, but he’ll continue riding for Spain in 2018 before deciding whether to switch nationalities for competitive purposes.
Graves has now performed an extraordinary ‘triple double’ on the 16-year-old son of Florett As, having won both the grand prix and freestyle classes in all three weeks they have competed at the Festiva this season.
Graves' score in the Freestyle came close to her best ever score of 85.307 percent, achieved to stand reserve champion at the FEI World Cup Final in April 2017 in Omaha, Neb.
“IT WAS FUN to come out every ride and have some new things to talk about with my coach Debbie McDonald,” said Graves, who is ranked number four in the world. “I had some brilliant lightbulb moments for myself with my own riding tonight, which is super exciting. We don’t go in there just to tack on miles; there’s always a purpose, and tonight was no different.”
Graves is “groom-less” for the week, so her fellow team bronze medalist from the Rio Olympics, Kasey Perry-Glass, has been helping and was awarded the $500 grooms’ award from Adequan®.
Graves has fully embraced the FEI’s new degree of difficulty calculating system, and her test leveraged the degree of difficulty score to the max.
It included four double pirouettes linked together by huge tempi changes straight down the center line.
If it weren’t for a spook near the judge at C just after one of the pirouettes, the score would have been even higher.
“I’m still learning to ride this horse when he’s as hot as he is,” said Graves. “He’s super duper hot in this atmosphere, and it’s a bigger atmosphere than some of the indoor shows. And when we do three shows here under the lights, the structure and repetitiveness really gets him fired up. It gives me a lot to work with, but I always embrace difficult experiences because it puts me a little ahead of the game for next time, hopefully.
Lyle was returning to the AGDF’s “Friday Night Stars” for the first time in four years, the last time she rode Wizard on the circuit.
“I was dying to get back out there,” she said. “It was Salvino’s first time under the lights doing a freestyle, so that’s a big unknown, but I was completely thrilled with how he handled everything. He was probably even more relaxed and easy going than in the grand prix test. I wanted to give him a good experience, give him confidence, and make it something he’d enjoy in the future. I think we accomplished that.”
MATUTE GUIMON'S ride began with an extended canter down the center line straight out of the first halt, and his bold riding was richly rewarded, despite a few sticky moments in the piaffe.
“I was surprised and happy with the score and placing, it was quite an electric test,” he said. “But it felt fresh and active with a lot of expression, and it was a goal to add more impulsion and competitive attitude. We were really trying to go for it.”
On the question of which flag to ride under, he added: “It’s a huge, emotional decision that will determine the future of my career. It’s very difficult because I love Spain and am very attached to it, but at the same time I did grow up here and have actually lived in the U.S more than half my life and have been given so many opportunities here.”
“I was very proud of the two American horses, and I think they were outstanding,” said Anne Gribbons, the judge at C. “In Verdades’ first two movements he was tense, but then he was ‘on’. I think this was probably Laura’s best freestyle overall; in the piaffe the horse got it together, he sat down and really did a good job. And Salvino is amazing for being so green. He’s very calm and happy in his skin. This is very promising for the team to have these horses.”
The class was the final FEI World Cup qualifier in North America, and confirms qualification for both Graves and Shelly Francis.
The Dominican Republic’s Yvonne Losos de Muñiz has secured the spot for non-league riders.
Graves and Verdades can next be seen in public during week 12 of the AGDF, when they will give a demo of their spectacularly technical freestyle. Lyle and Salvino are working on a new arrangement with Terry Gallo, who is also responsible for Graves’ music. If it is ready, Lyle will debut the new routine in competition in week 12.
In the Intermediate I CDI3* class, the top two from yesterday’s Prix St Georges were reversed, with victory on this occasion going to the USA’s Jan Ebeling on Sergio Leone with 68.529 percent, with Canada’s Tom Dvorak just 0.19 percent behind on Cyrus.
Ebeling has been competing Sergio Leone less than a year, and they have a dozen FEI small tour results to their name.
He is owned by Ann Romney, who also owned Ebeling’s Olympic ride Rafalca.
THE FOLLOWING day, March 3, Ashley Holzer recorded Sir Caramello’s first ever international grand prix win in just his fourth CDI test, topping the Grand Prix Special CDI3* with 70.149 percent.
They were the only combination to break through the 70 percent barrier in the class of 13 finishers
Holzer was surprised to win, having finished seventh in the qualifying grand prix.
Sadly she was not able to attend the prize-giving as she had to leave to catch a flight to Toronto.
“I’m speechless,” said Holzer. “This horse has been on the most incredible journey. Never in a million years did I think he’d win. I thought we might do a 65 percent test. But I’ve just watched the video back, and some of the things he did in that test were unbelievable. And he whinnied at me for this first time in his life this week. I’m feeling very emotional about it.”
Indeed, the liver chestnut gelding’s extravagant movement and uphill frame command attention in the ring.
At only 11 years old, the horse still has plenty of time to gain confidence, and Holzer blamed the only big blip, a miscommunication in the passage to canter transition at X, firmly on herself.
“I timed the canter aid completely wrong,” she said. “He is such a power machine and he’s been challenging to bring on. Andreas Helgstrand once described him as the most talented but most difficult horse he’d ever seen. He was sold at the PSI auction in 2011 as a 4-year-old for €500,000 to Russia, then ended up with Patrik Kittel, who called PJ and I about him.
“It’s been hard for him to balance his huge gaits and then close up again for the collected work; that’s taken a long time to develop,” she said. “I also got some last minute advice from Robert Dover and Carl Hester yesterday, about taking my time in the corners, and not worrying about him being too ‘up’ in the frame.”
Holzer credits Rizvi’s patience and understanding as an owner for allowing her the time she needed to turn the horse around.
“PJ’s been behind him 100 percent of the time and, believe me, we’ve had some major lows with convincing him that everything would be okay,” said Holzer. “This win is testament to the importance of having a supportive owner who understands these things.”
Holzer plans to show Sir Caramello in one more CDI at the Festival before taking him to Europe for the summer.
Katherine Bateson Chandler, another to benefit from British Olympian Carl Hester’s advice on-site, was second on Alcazar.
She was nip and tuck on the trending scores with Holzer until small mistakes crept in in the two sets of one-time changes, so she finished on 69.979 percent.
Like Holzer, she plans to spend the summer in Europe, training with Hester.