Defending series champions Adelinde Cornelissen and Jerich Parzival scored a back-to-back double when winning yesterday's seventh leg of the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage series in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. © FEI/DigiShots
But with the maximum 20 points going to the second-place rider, as the previous year's winners do not collect points during the following season, there was a tremendous battle for the minor placings. And it was Helen Langehanenberg who came off best in a tussle with German counterpart Isabell Werth who had to settle for third place despite one of the most exciting performances of the day.
The result has moved Langehanenberg into third on the series leaderboard with just two qualifying rounds left to go. And there is a new leader, as Italy's Valentina Truppa, who finished fifth, has ousted Sweden's Patrik Kittel from the top of the table.
Cornelissen and the 15-year-old Parzival also won Friday's preliminary Grand Prix which attracted 22 starters. But the Dutch duo's winning score of 80.936 paled into insignificance compared to their 87.050 in the Freestyle to Music. The 15-strong star-studded field really raised their game to present an afternoon of high-quality competition, but none could match the class of Cornelissen and her mighty chestnut gelding.
There is a keen battle amongst the German contingent for a starting spot at the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final which will take place in 's-Hertogenbosch, The Netherlands in April. And Nadine Capellmann did her chances no harm with a lovely test that led the way at the halfway stage. She left the considerably more-experienced Elvis at home in Aachen, and instead brought out her 11 year old Gribaldi mare, Girasol 7, who produced some lovely work throughout a calm, quiet and happy test that was full of lightness and life to earn a mark of 76.200.
That remained the target score until Truppa, winner at the fifth leg of the Western European League in Frankfurt in December and at Lipica in Slovenia) earlier last year, swept into the lead when Ground Jury members Stephen Clarke (GB), Susie Hoevenaars (AUS), Wim Ernes (NED), Mariette Sanders van Gansewinkel (NED) and Jacques van Daele (BEL) awarded 76.775 for her test with Eremo del Castegno. But then Dutch star Edward Gal really pleased the home crowd with a dramatic performance from the 13 year old mare Sisther de Jeu whose extravagant extended trot and big piaffe helped put 79.875 on the board.
Second placegetter, Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill NRW.
But with those tantalising 20 points still up for grabs, it was Langehanenberg who came closest to Cornelissen's score as, second-last to go, the 12 year old stallion, Damon Hill NRW, showed his class to put 83.150 on the scoreboard.
"The feeling today was really good - even better than yesterday," Langehanenberg said afterwards. "My horse loves to perform in the arena and he really fought for me and I loved it!" said the rider who plans one more World Cup outing - at Neumunster, Germany next month - before the final.
Third-placed Werth was delighted, too. "I really enjoyed the ride," she said. "He (El Santo) becomes more and more powerful and is growing in confidence." She is also planning to compete in Neumunster, but is unsure whether she will take El Santo or the veteran, Warum Nicht, to the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Final. Thinking ahead to the summer's Olympic Games and which horse she will compete in London she said, "I'm in a comfortable position - I am focusing on improving the two younger horses right now - we will see."
The judge at C, Wim Ernes from The Netherlands, put the competition into perspective during the post-competition press conference. "I'm still excited!" he said. "As judges we had the opportunity to judge riders of such quality - Adelinde's test has the high degree of difficulty, Helen's is filled with elegance and her stallion has such super gaits, Isabell put on a super riding performance - I'm really pleased you went to the limit and tried to beat the other ones - you went over the limit really, but that's what sport is!" he said to Werth.
Isabell Werth and El Santo NRW were third. © FEI/DigiShots
"I'm very sad for her," Ernes said. "We have to ring the bell after 20 seconds, she had several times of resistance and we tried to give her time to recover. The horse has only one eye, and I think he heard or saw something. We were ready to ring the bell but she withdrew at the same moment - at the end she couldn't go on".
He understood that Parzival also found something in the arena that he didn't particularly like - Cornelissen said it was "on the short side, at A" and that a number of horses got tense at that part of the arena but that she has learned to ride him through these situations. "We're not searching for mistakes," Wim Ernes pointed out, "we try to see the good things!".
There were plenty of good things to see in the RAI Arena at Amsterdam today, but Cornelissen's performance was the best of all. The Dutch rider, whose boyfriend and manager Sjaak van der Lei held onto Parzival as she accepted her prize from Lelle Henrichsen, Reem Acra Vice President, says that her challenge now is to find the right balance of competition and rest for her super-star over the coming months.
"I may take him to Gothenburg to give him one more run before the final in April. I'm considering all the options," she said, "but the final is very important. First of all it's in Holland, and secondly I won last year so I feel I have to compete and defend my title."
Facts and Figures:
The judging panel was: At E, Stephen Clarke (GBR); At H, Susie Hoevenaars (AUS); At C, Wim Ernes (NED); At M, Mariette Sanders van Gansewinkel (NED); At B, Jacques van Daele (BEL).
The oldest horse in the competition was the bay gelding Krawall, ridden by The Netherlands Jenny Schreven, who celebrates his 20th birthday in 2012.
The youngest horse was last to go in the Freestyle to Music - the 10 year old bay mare Dorina, ridden by Norway's Siril Helljesen.
The Netherlands' Adelinde Cornelisen and Jerich Parzival won Friday's preliminary Grand Prix with a score of 80.936. Helen Langehanenberg and Damon Hill NRW finished second (75.213), and fellow-German Isabell Werth slotted into third with El Santo NRW (73.872).
Just two qualifying legs remain in the 2011/2012 Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage Western European League series - the next leg takes place at Neumunster, Germany on Sunday 19 February and the last qualifier will be held in Gothenburg, Sweden on Saturday 25 February.
Standings after Round 7:
1. Valentina Truppa ITA - 66
2. Patrick Kittel SWE - 65
3. Helen Langehanenberg GER - 62
4. Isabell Werth GER - 60
5. Hans Peter Minderhoud NED - 59
6. Tinne Wilhelmson-Silfven SWE - 52
7. Richard Davison GBR - 48
8. Jeroen Devroe BEL - 43
9. Nadine Capellmann GER - 40
10. Siril Helljesen NOR - 34
11. Monica Theodorescu GER - 32
12. Catherine Haddad USA - 26
12. Edward Gal NED - 26
12. Jenny Schreven NED - 26
15. Marc Peter Spahn BEL - 24