The Netherlands’ Hans Peter Minderhoud steered Glock’s Flirt to victory in the Grand Prix as the Reem Acra FEI World Cup™ Dressage 2016 Final got underway at the Scandinavium Arena in Gothenburg, Sweden today. But the host nation contenders were hot on the heels of the Dutch duo, with Tinne Vilhelmson-Silfven and Don Auriello just 0.371 percentage points behind in second place and Patrik Kittel just 0.1 point further adrift in third with the veteran Watermill Scandic.
Minderhoud knows he will have to do it all again in Sunday’s Freestyle if, at his sixth attempt, he is to take the coveted Reem Acra title at last. But it will be no easy task for the 42-year-old Dutchman and his 15-year-old gelding because, as today’s result clearly demonstrated, there is very little separating the leading combinations in the 18-strong field.
Denmark’s Agnete Kirk Thinggaard and Jojo AZ got the competition off to a great start with a test that earned 73.343, but it was Vilhelmson-Silfven who set the real target when, third to go with Don Auriello, she posted 76.500 which really put it up to the rest of them. The six-time Olympian and her 14-year-old gelding presented a picture of elegance as always, Don Auriello showing off his trademark extended trot and elevated passage and piaffe to great effect.
It wasn’t until Jessica von Bredow-Wendl and Unee BB, third-place finishers at the 2015 Reem Acra Final in Las Vegas, USA set off just after the judging break that anyone came close to that, scoring 75.257 when tenth to go. But from the moment Minderhoud entered the arena with Glock’s Flirt it was clear they were going to produce something special. With calm concentration the chestnut horse set about his work to reset the target score at 76.871 to take command with just three more to follow them into the arena. The show was far from over yet however.
When it comes to showmen there are few better than Sweden’s Patrik Kittel, and although the crowd went wild with excitement as they arrived into the arena when last to go, the 39-year-old rider and his 17-year-old horse just took it all in their stride to post 76.400 which would slot them neatly into third place.
Kittel said afterwards that he wasn’t in the least bit bothered by the noise of the crowd, despite a little spook from Scandic before they began their test. “I love it actually!” he said, “the excitement just makes for good sport – when people are happy that is great and we want the spectators to clap us – we are happy when they clap! But when I ride the test they stop and it is quiet again and I love that too. I would rather have all the noise and excitement because it makes for a great competition. And of course we have a top audience here and Gothenburg is a great show!” he added.
Second-placed Vilhelmson-Silfven said she was “super-happy” with Don Auriello today but admitted that she had “a shaky start! He (Don Auriello) wouldn’t stand still in the halt and then he just cantered off so that gives you something to think about! Am I preparing wrong or something? I was scared at first that I was not where I should be at the beginning but it all came together in the end” she explained.
Kittel talked about Watermill Scandic who certainly belies his age and who continues to be as enthusiastic as ever. “He is in really good shape at 17 years old. I wonder will he quiet down but he loves his work and he was like this when he was 7 years old so I don’t think he will never change. I love him for that! I ride him a week to 10 days before a competition but he is like a professor, he knows what he has to do, I don’t have to tell him – he is really clever. He has done so many grand prix events in his life and it is a great feeling when he is like that. He has always been like that since he was born!” the Swedish athlete pointed out.
Minderhoud meanwhile was reflecting this evening on his performance and on the possibility of making the Reem Acra title his own. “I know if I want to win then here is my chance” he said. “I was very happy with my ride today, my horse was very good super concentrated. We had a small thing with a pirouette but I rode him as I wanted to ride him. However Sunday is a new day and with the Swedish in the form they showed today then I have to give everything to make it happen! he added.