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April 16, 2009

Steffen and Ravel Live La "Viva Las Vegas"

We tease Sara Lieser because—after years of being the dressage diva of the Chronicle’s editorial staff--she has a tendency to cry when a U.S. dressage rider does well. So she definitely teared up during Steffen Peters’ Grand Prix test today. But I can’t tease her too much, because even though my tear ducts stayed dry, the hair on my arms definitely prickled.

I don’t think I’ve every heard thousands of people so audibly hold their breath as when Steffen Peters passaged up his final center line on Ravel. The background music playing was “Viva Las Vegas” and Ravel’s feet fell perfectly in time with the music. Steffen had the hint of a grin on his face. The crowd waited until he finished his salute, then exhaled and exploded in applause. Steffen stayed in the ring for a while, basking in the moment as his scores—tops for the day—were announced.

Yep, you read that right, Steffen Peters and Ravel topped the Grand Prix today at the Rolex FEI World Cup Final, beating Isabell Werth and Anky van Grunsven. I have to say that the day didn’t start off great for the U.S. contingent, with Rafalca spooking multiple times for Jan Ebeling and Kingston coming up lame during Leslie Morse’s test for elimination.

From all accounts—including her own—Leslie’s warm-up time in the ring yesterday was the best Kingston has gone, and I’m sure she was eagerly awaiting a chance to show the world the strength of her partnership with him. And she said that her warm-up today went spectacularly. But as she progressed through her trot work, his unevenness became evident. Every horseman has had a horse go lame at the worst possible moment and I’m sure this was Leslie’s. We’ve all been there.

But the mood lifted immeasurably after Ravel’s test. It’s a shame that these results don’t count toward the final result; they just determine the order of go for the freestyle. Steffen will have a challenge to repeat his stellar performance in the freestyle. Anky van Grunsven and Isabell Werth aren’t going to just stand back and let him win the title.

Anky had multiple mistakes in her test with Painted Black, though she finished second to Steffen. She seemed quite frustrated during her ride, and her face looked grim as the ride went on. Steffen’s test was quite the contrast—relaxed and full of harmony. Isabell’s test on Satchmo was good enough for third, but Satchmo broke to the walk in one of her canter pirouettes.

In the press room at the end of the day today, Polish rider Michal Rapcewicz came to chat to some of the reporters. Since our very own Kat Netzler had so enjoyed talking to him about his freestyle for our Rolex FEI World Cup Preview issue, she took a copy up to him. His English is limited, but he was thrilled to meet her and see the issue. Sometimes this job is pretty fun! Kat was glad she brought her hair-straightener.

There are more empty seats in the Thomas & Mack Arena than there have been the last few years the World Cup Finals have been in Las Vegas, but the fans that are here are enthusiastic enough to make up for it. Colombia and the Netherlands have colorful and loud cheering sections. It will be interesting to see if attendance improves for the show jumping and for the freestyle on Saturday. There’s a real air of excitement now—Steffen got us eagerly anticipating the days to come!

Molly Sorge