Paris, France – April 13, 2018 – The 2018 FEI World Cup™ Dressage Final officially kicked off on Friday with the Grand Prix, where the United States’ Laura Graves prevailed over longtime rival and defending World Cup champion Isabell Werth of Germany. Graves earned a personal best Grand Prix score of 81.413 percent aboard her own and Curt Maes’ Verdades to take the lead heading into Saturday’s Freestyle competition.
This is American Laura Graves’ third appearance at the championship, though her first World Cup Final in Europe, with her 16-year-old KWPN gelding (Florett As–Lilwilarda, Goya). In 2015, the pair appeared at their first World Cup Finals in Las Vegas, Nevada, where they placed fifth in the Grand Prix with a score of 74.314 percent and fourth in the Grand Prix Freestyle with a score of 79.125 percent. In 2017, they returned to compete in Omaha, Nebraska, and placed second in the Grand Prix with a score of 79.8 percent and second in the Grand Prix Freestyle with a score of 85.307 percent behind Werth.
Graves qualified for Paris after an undefeated season in Wellington, Florida, and she was determined to give the world’s top-ranked pair a run for their money. In a clean, expressive test, Graves and Verdades laid down a score of 81.413 percent in Friday’s Grand Prix, which surpasses the 80.68 percent she earned last year in a Grand Prix test at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival.
Though the Americans were celebrating a top score, they had to hold their breath to see Germany’s Werth and Weihegold OLD, a 13-year-old Oldenburg mare, owned by Christine Arns-Krogman. The winningest dressage rider in the world, Werth claimed her first World Cup title 25 years ago while her last World Cup win was in Omaha in 2017 with Weihegold OLD. Their test started out very strong, but the mare became tense after the passage-canter transition and they had two mistakes in the canter tour to end on a score of 78.555 percent.
Though fellow American Shelly Francis went off course, she received a total score of 68.611 percent to qualify her for the Grand Prix Freestyle on Saturday with Patricia Stempel’s Danilo.
Laura Graves – First place
On winning her first World Cup Finals class:
“I’m very excited. It’s our first World Cup Final in Europe and it’s a personal best for us today! I’m very excited going into tomorrow and for the rest of this year. I’ve been in Paris since Monday, so I’ve had the opportunity to enjoy the venue and city. We are lucky we can come here and get to compete indoors because that is one of the major differences in qualifications. All our qualifiers are outdoors, so it’s a different venue for my horse. It’s definitely a different set of experiences for me and my horse.”
On sitting next to Isabell Werth after beating her:
“It feels very scary, especially with a fierce competitor and I know she will ride even harder tomorrow! But that’s why I’m here, I like to put myself in situations to also be challenged. It makes me a better competitor and rider. We certainly will continue to put ourselves against the toughest competition.”
“He’s super fit, which feels amazing. We were a little worried because it’s so much warmer in here than it has been outside. Trying to plan for that adjustment has been a thought of ours, but the weather today has been so beautiful, I think it made it a bit easier.
Luckily he is such a hot horse that we are able to create it in our schooling a little bit. We are learning to manage it, and I’m learning. He is the first horse I have developed from 3-years-old to Grand Prix. He is very honest, even though he is very hot. He gets very excited and sometimes very tense. To be honest, I was nervous about the size of the warm-up. We always have a full-size arena in the United States, but it ended up being just fine. Once he goes into his 20×60 arena I know I can usually count on him. We are just working on relaxation every day. Hopefully, one day that will come too!”
On her ride:
“Nothing I can really complain about. He felt really rideable, no big mistakes, and other than that there were some real highlights. The trot half-passes, the canter pirouettes, all of his changes felt big and straight, and obviously a personal best score for us. The judges agreed, which is the hardest part of our sport.”
On her preparation for the freestyle:
“I think we have another early morning session in here tomorrow, so because now he is seeing the stadium filled with people and the environment is very different than it has been for training, it’s important for us to get him in there in the morning just to relax him a bit for 30-40 minutes. He’s a trained horse, so that’s not really the job. The job for this particular horse is learning to ride him and relax him in different environments. Once he goes into the 20×60, then he feels like this is my home. Going around the outside always feels like the first time. I’ve been riding him for 13 years, so I don’t really get nervous anymore when I’m riding. Whatever happens, I can only ride the best I can.”
On her plans for the remaining year:
“We are very proud to be hosting the World Equestrian Games in Tryon this year. We are looking at every event as putting ourselves against the very best competition. We have more international competitions in a short drive for us in Florida, so I don’t have a reason to leave except for qualifying but to really improve myself and my horse. So that is what we will continue to do. WEG is our last big event. I’m very proud today of the score in the Grand Prix knowing that for the World Games that will be a score that hopefully contributes to a team medal. We are still deciding what to do, but hopefully, we still have this horse in top form and we have other top American horses on form for Tryon.”
Debbie McDonald – coach of Laura Graves
“I’m on cloud 9. It’s just very emotional. He was very nervous and hot, but he just trusts her. Everyone thinks he’s really calm but he’s a very electric horse. That’s what makes him so brilliant. She gives him confidence and he believes in her. It’s just great to see it be rewarded. I really feel it’s really exciting. Isabell is going to give everyone a run for their money, I guarantee it.”
Robert Dover – U.S. Dressage Chef d’Equipe/Technical Advisor
“I am over the absolute moon. I was trying not to cry. It’s incredibly amazing. It’s a statement of the quality of riding and training and ownership, of grooming and management, of everything coming together with a great rider and horse that love each other. That’s what that was. Isabell is a fabulous rider, and right now I can tell you she’s coming back tomorrow and she’s not going to just give that away. Laura’s going to do her very best like she did today and then the chips are going to fall where they will fall. We just couldn’t be happier and I’m so thrilled to have Debbie do this whole thing will all the riders. Just the support system is an incredible thing. I’m on my way towards my own green pasture, but I couldn’t be happier and more proud of this moment this year, and what this means to see things like this happens. It’s very exciting!”
On her test:
“I was a little unhappy with myself for going off course, but I wasn’t going to talk about that, so that’s it! Otherwise, he felt really good but could’ve piaffed a little better a couple times. Overall he was trying to be fluid and nice and rideable. He was a good boy. Even when I did get to the zig zag, he felt nice and even and steady through that. Overall when I asked him to go forward, he was really willing to go forward. Sometimes in the past, he would get a little bottled up inside, and he’s starting to open up in the extended trot and canter. I want to have a nice, stellar freestyle. He likes the freestyle, I love the freestyle, and my music is so different.”