PARIS, France--Laura Graves on Verdades posted a personal best of 89.082 in the dressage Freestyle at the World Cup on April 14, but finished just 1.5 points behind the reigning World Cup Final champion Isabell Werth of Germany on Weihegold OLD, who scored a 90.657 percent.
With the FEI World Cup Dressage Final title on the line, Graves of Geneva, Fla., and Verdades defended their 2017 second-place finish on Saturday evening in the Freestyle to Music in Paris.
Germany’s Jessica von Bredow-Werndl and Unee BB finished third on a score of 83.725 percent.
“I am very proud,” said Graves. “It feels like first place, and the horse won’t know the difference, that’s for sure. Now I have a little homework in my book bag, and we will take that back and be prepared for the next time. I have to pay respect to my horse because without these top horses who want to do the job for us, who want to learn, who allow us to learn with them, none of this would be possible.”
The atmosphere was electric as first Graves, and then Werth, put on a show for the ecstatic French crowd.
CHASING THE title, both of these powerful, yet poised athletes, gave it their best and turned out performances aimed at contesting the FEI World Cup record of 94.300 percent set by Charlotte Dujardin of Great Britain and Valegro in 2014.
In the end, it was Werth who came out on top, but Graves had much to be proud of.
“Today, we are second,” she said. “But still a big personal best for us.”
The Olympic bronze medalist began developing this particular freestyle test in December 2017 to her previous music.
The program was designed to be very competitive, difficult, and technical and included four pirouettes, two full double pirouettes and two that were a pirouette and a half.
The combination performed its first full left piaffe pirouette into the full right piaffe pirouette in Saturday’s Freestyle.
“He was super today,” said Graves. “I was really pleased with the half-passes and keeping clean in all the changes. He really felt super rideable through the whole thing. We changed the music, and I haven’t ridden to it since. We have added a second piaffe pirouette down the centerline. I was really proud of him doing the pirouette both ways and directly into the right pirouette. For me, that was really a highlight.”
Fellow American Shelly Francis of Loxahatchee, Fla., and Danilo performed a freestyle to an acapella accompaniment, finishing 12th on a score of 74.189 percent.
“It feels good," said Francis. "I feel like we redeemed ourselves a little bit from yesterday, so that is good. He really felt very good. He is really trying and likes his music, so it’s awesome.”
GRAVES HAD put all the pressure on the defending champion when beating her in Friday's Grand Prix, so in the deciding Freestyle Werth had it all to do to put that behind her and come back out fighting.
But with her trademark steely determination,Werth produced a pristine performance to see off the challenge and lift the coveted trophy for the fourth time in her incredible career.
It was right down to the wire however, and she knew that the slightest error was out of the question when second-last to go.
Graves had already posted a massive score of 89.082 which, the US rider admitted, surprised even her.
“I knew anything was possible," said Graves. "I knew it would take a score like that to possibly get a win, and it was a huge personal best for me.”
Werth described her Grand Prix defeat as “motivating“, and simply used it to spur herself on to better things with the help of team coach and manager, Monica Theodorescu.
“Like I said yesterday, I was not really disappointed or sad, I was just thinking about how I had to prepare for today and how I had to make it better and analyse what went wrong," said Werth. "So Monica and me, we decided to go in the big warm-up arena today, to bring her (Weihegold) forward and to make her free again, and that worked, and today she was the horse I wanted to show yesterday.”
"This is life, a lot of people think it’s easy, you win and you win again, but it’s not like that," said Werth. "You have to think about it all the time and keep listening to your horse. Yesterday was not our day, but today we could solve it. And this is what I really like to do, and that’s the reason why I love to compete!"
The World Cup result was another reminder of the continuing resurgence of the German Dressage powerhouse, with Werth’s compatriots Jessica von Bredow-Werndl on Unee BB and Dorothee Schneider on Sammy Davis Jr., taking third and fifth.
Von Bredow-Werndl’s success was at the expense of Sweden’s Patrik Kittel who, as always, had the crowd right behind him when producing another one of his toe-tapping performances with Deja but who just missed a place on the podium when having to settle for fourth.
“I never practice my Freestyle as much as my other tests, so I think now I have a bit of homework to do and I think there are many more points to be earned in the future”, Graves said, so she is clearly planning to work to beat Werth the next time they meet.
“To have experience is an advantage if you use it in the right way, and I think we did that from yesterday to today,” Werth said. “After a lot of years in the sport you know how many things can happen, how things can change very quickly. It gives you the confidence to go in the ring and to try your best. You know what your horse can do, and you know what you can do. This was just a great day today.”