Friday, Apr. 12, 2024

What’s Missing From The Rolex FEI World Cup Finals?

Hearing what experts like John Madden and Robert Dover have to say about what they expect might happen at the Rolex FEI World Cup Finals on April 16-19 in Las Vegas, Nev., isn’t only fascinating but also whets the appetite for watching the best in the world go head to head (p. 16 and 46).
   

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Hearing what experts like John Madden and Robert Dover have to say about what they expect might happen at the Rolex FEI World Cup Finals on April 16-19 in Las Vegas, Nev., isn’t only fascinating but also whets the appetite for watching the best in the world go head to head (p. 16 and 46).
   
On the show jumping side, the Final is typically a real nail-biter. Three intense days of competition decide the winner, and—as John Madden points out—the results of each day count mightily, which creates a rollercoaster effect over the week.
   
There have been some real surprises in the show jumping Final—in 2007, top contenders Beezie Madden and Meredith Michaels-Beerbaum both fell off. I don’t think anyone could have predicted that! And while there are always hot favorites to win, it’s not unusual for an unexpected victor to be galloping around in the spotlight on Sunday afternoon. In 2004, little-known French rider Bruno Broucqsault defeated the great Michaels-Beerbaum on Shutterfly.
   
This year, an interesting “kerfluffle” over qualifications in dressage highlighted the fact that the competition on the dressage side isn’t quite as topsy-turvy (p. 144). Anky van Grunsven—who has won the dressage World Cup Final four times on IPS Salinero and is the defending champion—will compete IPS Painted Black in Las Vegas.
   
She would have preferred to bring Salinero but didn’t compete him in the two required CDI-W classes that the rules stipulate. Though Anky relented and agreed to bring Painted Black, in her protests she stated that she didn’t want to come to Las Vegas if she wasn’t going to win. “If she goes, she goes to win,” said her husband, Sjef Janssen to Eurodressage.com. In other words, if she was riding Salinero, she’d win, no questions asked.
   
Which brings us to one of the downsides of international dressage: There are few surprises. The FEI World Cup Final’s format, where just the freestyle score determines the Final winner, exacerbates this problem. Anky has so completely established her dominance over the freestyle on the electric Salinero that it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that she can’t be beaten. And even when circumstances take her out of the running—such as when she took time off in 2007 to have her second child—there’s an heir apparent in Isabell Werth.
   
What’s the spectator draw when the results are pretty much written already?

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Sure, we all love to watch dressage at its best, and Anky and Salinero can certainly deliver a freestyle test that takes your breath away. But without the element of surprise in the results, the competition can take on an atmosphere of a demonstration rather than a head-to-head contest. Will that really bring spectators to watch over and over?
   
How can international dressage break out of this rut of predictability? What if they took a page from the battle for the individual medals of show jumping at the World Equestrian Games and had to trade horses and ride? Or, what if they had to improvise a freestyle to music unknown to them?  Sure, these are wild ideas that won’t ever see the light of day, but didn’t you for a second think “Wow, that’d be neat!”
   
Whether it’s these ideas or something else entirely, the FEI World Cup Dressage Final needs to be returned to a competition, not an exhibition. Anky and Isabell have proved they’ve mastered this format—perhaps it’s time to consider something new.

Molly Sorge, Assistant Editor

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