They could just rename the dressage part of the World Equestrian Festival. "Totilachen" has a nice ring to it. But the crowd all but chanted "U-S-A! U-S-A!" in the black stallion's handsome face today as they were smitten with a multinational combo riding for the USA: Dutch-bred and trained horse, German-born rider, American owners. I know he has a French-born farrier. And who knows how many other nations contribute to the success of the USA's Steffen Peters and Ravel?
They won at Aachen two years ago, and apparently the crowd had not forgotten them. And if they had, the pair's performance in the freestyle caused an instant collective recall, as Ravel and Peters came within a point of Totilas and Rath.
As your eyes move down the results, you notice that the numbers are clumped together. Imagine scoring 78.725 percent for a freestyle dressage performance. It would be the thrill of a lifetime. But for Germany's longtime champion and diva of dressage, Olympic medalist Isabell Werth, that score was only good enough for sixth place at Aachen today. Crowded above her were five other of the world's best, and all six were subject to only the classic six degrees--or, in this case, percentage points--of separation.
And look who almost took home the prize!
Everyone thought Aachen would be a battle of nerves between Bechtolsheimer, Cornelissen and Rath. No one was looking for Peters and Ravel to improve of their 2010 WEG performance and climb within reach of Totilas, but so they did.
It wasn't until hours after the results were announced that I realized the extraordinary fact that both Totilas and Ravel were trained by Edward Gal of The Netherlands, who lost the ride on both horses when they changed ownership hands. The Netherlands lost the horses, too. He finished ninth today on Sisther de Jeu with 77.125 but Edward Gal's share in the victories goes without question, even as it goes largely without recognition.
It was that kind of week at Aachen: full of what ifs, might haves and could have beens. Except for Totilas, of course, who took home all the prizes, if not quite all the cheers, just as was predicted. It was the rest of the program that didn't follow the script.
(The following is a slightly edited version of a press release from CHIO Aachen; a few changes were made for American readers)
"I am delighted that I was able to win here three times in a sold-out stadium," said Germany's Matthias Alexander Rath, overjoyed after his ride on Totilas in the Deutsche Bank Prize for the Grand Prix Freestyle CDIO. "Now we can return home with a great feeling and train for three or four weeks in a tranquil and fully concentrated atmosphere."
Totilas and Matthias Alexander Rath scored 82.825 percent and managed to narrowly take the lead. Mistakes in the flying-changes in the freestyle routine that was choreographed especially for Totilas and instrumentalized by the disk jockey/producer, Paul van Dyk, cost him points.
"If it had been down to the crowd, the American rider
Steffen Peters would have been the winner."
If it had been down to the crowd, the American rider Steffen Peters would have been the winner. The rider, who won the Grand Prix of Aachen in 2009, was awarded a score of 82.00 percent for his performance on the 13-year-old KWPN gelding, Ravel.
"It is a dream come true to finish so close behind Totilas. This was an amazing show for me here, the crowd was really behind me and Ravel, it was a fantastic experience and the perfect conclusion of a wonderful time in Aachen. Ravel performed a super freestyle here, he spooked a bit because of the cameras, but otherwise everything went extremely well," reported Peters, who runs a dressage stable in San Diego, California.
"Edward Gal's share in the victories goes without question,
even as it goes largely without recognition."
The Dutch dressage star Adelinde Cornelissen finished third with her World Cup winner, Jerich Parzival, (81.775 percent). The pair, who made a few mistakes - the chestnut horse fell into canter twice in the half-passes in trot - had included some very difficult movements into her freestyle including a piaffe pirouette with a change of direction.
Laura Bechtolsheimer of Great Britain, who ranked fourth with a score of 79.825 percent, had set her aims high. "I put myself under enormous pressure, because I wanted to win here," the 2010 World Championship silver medallist admitted. "But it was bound to happen sometime or other that things didn't go as perfectly as I'd planned. It is a shame, but now I am just pleased it happened here so I can concentrate on myself again in future. I simply put myself under too much pressure," said Bechtolsheimer, who made several mistakes including falling into canter twice in the extensions in trot and a mistake in the transition into the flying-changes every stride.
Christoph Koschel (Hagen a.T.W.) finished fifth with Donnperignon. The pair were awarded a score of 79.7 percent for their almost flawless freestyle routine.
Isabell Werth, who rode the 10-year-old Ehrentusch son, El Santo NRW, was disappointed with her freestyle score. Her difficult freestyle routine to brand new David Bowie music - "Ernie" made a mistake in the pirouette when he spooked - was awarded a score of 78.725 percent from the judges: Sixth place.