Photo courtesy of FEI.Kit Houghton
Laura Bechtolsheimer led the cavalry-charge, as British riders sensationally claimed the top four places in the Reem Acra FEI World Cup Dressage 2011/2012 qualifier at Olympia in London. Riding Mistral Hojris, the horse with which she claimed three silver medals at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky, USA last year, the 26 year old rider scored 83.975% to pip fellow-countrywoman Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro, while 2011 European silver medallist, Carl Hester, slotted into third with Uthopia and, rounding up the host-nation whitewash, Richard Davison steered Hiscox Artemis into fourth.
"I'm thrilled", said Bechtolsheimer, "we won the Grand Prix here last year, but we have never won the Freestyle, and this is such a special show - the home crowd are great. It means everything to have won this competition!" she added.
A strong British result always looked on the cards following yesterday's Grand Prix in which Dujardin and Valegro headed another British rout. On that occasion, Bethtolsheimer and her 16 year old chestnut had to accept second-best as the young lady who swept to centre-stage of international Dressage at this summer's FEI European Championships was the only one of the 20 starters to break the 80% barrier when scoring 81.40 with her super-talented nine-year-old. Hester again finished third ahead of Davison, while Germany's Nadine Capellmann and Elvis VA were the first of the visitors in the line-up when finishing fifth. They slotted into the same spot again tonight.
As the competition reached the half-way stage this evening, it was Cathrine Rasmussen and Fernandez who were out in front with a score of 73.975, ahead of Norwegian team-mates Lillann Jebsen and Pro-Set. But there was even a British connection here, as Rasmussen's 11 year old gelding was formerly ridden by Dujardin, while Hester used to compete Jebsen's Dutch warmblood.
With just six horse-and-rider combinations left to go, Bechtolsheimer completely re-energised the leaderboard when finishing a full 10 marks ahead of Rasmussen's target after a Freestyle the judges clearly enjoyed. Talking about her ride, Bechtolsheimer said of Mistral Hojris, "he was awesome today, and we had no mistakes. I'm so happy to have that security with him again". Since Kentucky last year she has found it difficult to find similar form, but tonight has changed all that. "At Aachen and the Europeans (this year), as an individual they weren't my best performances. So I wanted to show that Alf and me aren't old news, and there's still more to come!" she pointed out.
Dujardin followed her into the ring, and with Valegro showing huge trot extensions and wonderful piaffe she scored 83.700 to slot into second place. "I was very pleased with my test, Valegro was a little bit hotter than yesterday" she pointed out. "He went in with a bit of tension tonight, and I didn't make my halt at the beginning and made a mistake in my 'twos' and in my 'ones', but managed to repeat them" she explained. But she knows that she and her horse are still only at the early stages of a long learning curve - a fact that makes this partnership all-the-more exciting. "It's only my second Kur with Valegro, and for a nine-year-old to go in and do that is incredible!" she added.
Next to go was Davison, whose 12 year old gelding, Hiscox Artemis, produced a smart routine despite a spook in the same corner of the ring to which he took a dislike at the same venue 12 months ago. But this is a man with a wealth of experience gleaned throughout his long and illustrious career, and it was clear his mark of 75.050 would keep him well in the frame. With just two to go, Hester - who like his protege Dujardin made a big impression at the Rotterdam Europeans in August - set off with the 10 year old stallion Uthopia, and the crowd held their breath as he produced lovely passage and piaffe and amazing extended trot for a score of 83.450. "I think my horse went the best he could today" Hester said. "When you are starting at the bottom with these horses, then degrees of difficulty have to be improved on - I didn't think there was much I could improve on tonight" he explained. And he added "I did want to beat these two (Bechtolsheimer and Dujardin) today, I want to be called their kid brother, not their grandad!" he joked.
Capellman was the final competitor, and with her 15 year old chestnut she showed some superb canter-changes to the rhythm of her Elvis-themed musical score for 74.600. But the night was all about the host-nation contenders, and the extraordinary future of British dressage. With the 2012 Olympic Games just around the corner, the rising tide of British talent could hardly be coming onstream at a more appropriate moment. There is a sense of anticipation like never before.
"We have, in the past, had an incredible horse or two, but without back-up that doesn't make a great team. Now we have three great combinations, getting great scores and with no weaknesses" Hester pointed out ominously.
And Ground Jury President, Britain's Stephen Clarke, agreed. "This is all a dream come true from a national point of view" he said. "The riders tonight did a great job, congratulations to all three for such huge scores, it was a fantastic competition. It was just a half a point here and there. Laura's fantastic impulsion and no mistakes, a fantastic job, Charlotte with this elastic-band of a horse, unfortunately she had a couple of small mistakes - and Carl with his super-star that is still up-and-coming - he did a fantastic job with the horse tonight, he looked after him and gave him such a good ride but took less risk than the other two" he explained.
The standard of competition in tonight's latest leg of the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage 2011/2012 series was described by FEI Director of Dressage, Trond Asmyr, as "the best we've had in any qualifier so far", and he added that "the three Brits at the top were so close to each other - I'm a judge myself and I wouldn't be able to split you, it was so good!"
And the next leg of the series which has provided tremendous competition so far this season is now only a few short days away. The fifth round of the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ takes place in Frankfurt, Germany on Sunday morning, and tonight's result has boosted Richard Davison's position on the series leaderboard. The British veteran is now lying third, behind Sweden's Patrick Kittel in second spot and Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven at the top of the league table.
Missed Laura's test? - Catch it again courtesy of the BBC - click here to read their report and see the results