Who will make the British dressage team for WEG? H&H’s dressage editor predicts…

OPINION

The question of who will be getting on the plane to Tryon for the World Equestrian Games in six weeks time is a hot topic in the H&H office at the moment, with the dressage team due to be announced in the week commencing 13 August. I have to admit, predicting the dressage quartet — aiming primarily to secure qualification for the Tokyo Olympics by finishing in the top five, but also to bring home a team medal — is proving a real head-scratcher.

Bar disaster, Carl Hester and Charlotte Dujardin have almost certainly booked their tickets to Tryon. Charlotte’s ride, Emma Blundell’s nine-year-old mare Mount St John Freestyle is in her first year of grand prix, but remains unbeaten, and her lowest score to date is 75.15% — at her first and only foreign show. She also has two plus-80% grand prix specials on her record, although Charlotte is yet to break the 80% barrier in an international grand prix.

Carl Hester is also looking like a dead cert for selection with his own, Anne Evans’ and Ann Cory’s Hawtins Delicato. The 10-year-old Diamond Hit gelding is also inexperienced at the top level, but has thoroughly impressed throughout the year on home soil, having been beaten only by Charlotte and Freestyle. With consistent grand prix scores in the mid to high 70s, they are fully deserving of a spot on the team.

However, after this it all gets much more tricky. As it stands, there are three riders in serious contention for the remaining two places — all I can say is I’m glad I’m not one of the selectors!

Rio team silver medallists Spencer Wilton and Super Nova II made their comeback earlier this month at Hartpury CDI, the De Niro gelding having been out of competition since last September with an injury. They scored 75.89% for third behind Carl and Charlotte, but sadly had to withdraw from the special when Spencer injured his back, and it was still troubling him at Hickstead last weekend. There, they won the grand prix with 74.15%; it was a slightly conservative performance, but Spencer was aiming for relaxation, and he was delighted with ‘Neville’. A solid special would no doubt have confirmed their place on the team, but Spencer was in too much pain to ride, and had to withdraw once again.

The pair certainly have the ability to pull in chunky scores for Britain, and the team medals are decided from just the grand prix in Tryon, not the special, but the fact they’ve only had two runs in 2018 — and the uncertainty over Spencer’s fitness — does make it hard for the selectors to choose them over combinations with more recent mileage.

One such rider is Emile Faurie, who returned to the British team last year for the first time since 2003 and has an enviably exciting string of rides. He is in strong contention with both Delatio — who made a successful return at Aachen after six months out — and Dono Di Maggio, who has less mileage but possibly more potential and has improved quickly this year. It’s tough to choose between them — Delatio’s average grand prix score of 2018 is 73% to Dono’s 71.5%, but the latter has scored more highly. If Emile makes the cut I would expect him to be named with his other horse as a reserve.

Gareth Hughes is the other rider in serious contention for a place, and he also has two horses in the mix. It would make for a lovely story if the 13-year-old Don Carissimo were chosen — Gareth and ‘Darcy’ travelled to Gothenburg for the 2017 Europeans on the British team, but were forced to withdraw before the start of competition when Darcy picked up an injury after arrival. My feeling is, however, that Classic Briolinca is the more likely choice should Gareth get the call-up — the 12-year-old Trento B mare hasn’t posted below 70% all year, and peaked at Bolesworth with 74.44%.

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I would be very surprised if it wasn’t four of these five riders who are selected, but leading the chasing pack is Lara Butler with her long-term partner Rubin Al Asad. Having been reserve for the Rio Olympics, and again for last year’s Europeans, it would be wonderful for Lara to finally make her team debut, but after a slightly below-par start to her 2018 campaign, I think it’s unlikely this year. Saying that, she and 16-year-old Rufus returned to top form on the huge Aachen stage in July so cannot be discounted.

Other combinations who could possibly be named on the long-list include Hayley Watson-Greaves with Rubins Nite and Michael Eilberg on Marakov. They have both posted plus-70% on the international stage in 2018 — with Hayley finishing 11th at the World Cup final in April — but their grand prix test scores from this season are not quite high enough to trouble the top contenders this year.

Making a prediction feels almost impossible; I can’t stop wavering between Gareth, Spencer and Emile. But, right now, on the strength and consistency of their 2018 grand prix scores, I’d have to go with Charlotte, Carl, Spencer and Emile for the team. By tomorrow, though, I’ll have probably changed my mind again…

Don’t miss our full preview of the FEI World Equestrian Games in Tryon, on sale Thursday 30 August

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