James Bond helps Swede to World Cup Final win at the ninth attempt; favourite eliminated

  • Patrik Kittel won the dressage World Cup Final freestyle at the ninth time of asking, riding Touchdown. This competition went to the wire, as the top three were the last to go – and were covered by just over 0.25% in the final reckoning. But Patrik’s brilliant James Bond routine stole the show, with Denmark’s Nanna Skodborg Merrald second aboard Blue Hors Don Olymbrio, and Isabell Werth third on DSP Quantaz.

    Patrik, 47, remembered being a spectator when his compatriot Louise Natthorst – who trains him now – won the World Cup Final 24 years ago.

    “I was just a groom and took two days off to watch the final, and couldn’t believe how cool the World Cup was – and now I’ve actually won it myself,” said Patrik. “It makes me cry! I’ve done so many World Cup Finals, so I say it’s better late than never. I’ll never forget this moment.”

    But there was drama as the contest neared its conclusion when the hot favourite Lottie Fry was eliminated under the blood rule. The grand prix winner Lottie was first into the ring from the final quartet – drawn from the top four in Wednesday’s grand prix – but the steward stopped her up before she entered the ring, had a quick word, and Everdale left the ring on a long-rein walk.

    How the dressage World Cup Final freestyle played out

    The packed stands were treated to three very different tests in this climax. Nanna tried out her new sombre, dramatic music for her liver chestnut stallion with white socks. Don Olymbrio is arguably her second string after Blue Hors Zepter, and the 16-year-old by Jazz is agile and rhythmic without being super flashy. At times he looked a trifle tight but he was pinpoint accurate, and proved how relaxed he was as he wandered out on a loose rein seemingly lapping up the applause. They blasted into the lead, which had been held for a long time by Mattias Rath (Destacado FRH, 77.85%), on 81.42%.

    “I really enjoyed my new music today,” said Nanna, who was finishing runner-up for the second time at the World Cup Finals. “Maybe it’s a little bit brave to bring it to the World Cup Final, and I will have to adjust it here and there to make it fit even better, but it made me smile inside and that’s really important that you love to ride to your music.”

    Next in was Isabell Werth and DSP Quantaz, who held the highest personal best in the field of 88.4%, which he logged en route to team silver at the European Championships in Riesenbeck last autumn. After finishing only fourth with mistakes in the two-time changes in the grand prix, Isabell was on a mission at this her 25th World Cup Final – and her ninth different horse.

    Her upbeat, happy music to a Bonnie Tyler soundtrack suited the bouncy Quantaz, especially his excellent piaffes which scored eights and nines. Another highlight, with a comedy touch, was her pirouettes to Turn Around from Total Eclipse of the Heart. She went for high difficulty lines and they came off. Three judges put her in first place, but their total of 81.4 meant the Dane held the advantage by just 0.02%.

    “I love to compete and it was a great atmosphere and a very close battle,” said Isabell. “It was a fun competition. When I came in Quantaz was quite excited by the atmosphere after Nanna’s great test, and he could have gone tense, but he stayed really with me. It was great sport, and to have three on the podium this close makes our sport exciting; it felt like anything could happen.”

    Isabell added: “I feel so sorry for Lottie, because we all know we are on a thin line, anything can happen to anyone.”

    Drawn as the very last rider in to the ring, Patrik had been excited to show off what he described as his “melancholic James Bond” freestyle and he milked the moment. The soundtrack was a perfect fit for Touchdown, his 12-year-old Quaterback Swedish Warmblood, and his transitions were spot-on with the music breaks. The horse showed so much lift, suppleness and harmony with his rider. The tempis were ever so slightly swingy behind, but overall the partnership produced a light and dancing picture, with beautiful piaffe to passage to match James Bond’s dying moments in A Time to Die. Patrik threw his arms round the neck at the end, before punching the air and waving at the crowd.

    “I love my music, now I have ridden it a few times and know exactly how it goes,” he said. “I love the slow, cool entrance and then off to extended trot. The degree of difficulty is very good for the sport, because we have to ride everything according to the programme and not take short cuts. It has done the sport a favour.”

    Despite this being Patrik’s ninth World Cup Final appearance he had never previously even been on the podium. He had broken that duck in the grand prix, finishing runner-up, and was visibly ecstatic with this performance to take victory by 0.24%.

    Off the podium at the dressage World Cup Final freestyle

    Germany’s Matthias Rath took the lead midway through the competition on 77.85%. The world number 11 rode to bombastic theatrical music, which complemented this compact warrior type, Destacado FRH. He showed great energy and cadence in his half-passes, and the judges loved his ground-covering extended walk and canter. However, a slight miscommunication at the end of the two-time tempis, when he slipped in a one-time – which he then repeated in the joker line – dragged his score down a touch. He finished just off the podium in fourth.

    “My horse performed much better than in the grand prix,” said Matthias, who finished sixth there. “I had a little mistake in two times but otherwise I was really happy. Sometimes everyone around forgets he’s just 11, he’s in his third grand prix season which was so early, and he’s still young.

    “He’s big with big movement so we have to give him time and I’m sure there is much more to come.”

    Matthias’ countryman, 24-year-old Raphael Netz, marked his card as one to watch in fifth position. Based with two-time World Cup Final winner Jessica von Bredow-Werndl – although setting up his own yard this month – Raphael scored 76.48% with his bold expressive test. He chose music from How to Train Your Dragon, inspired because he thinks his “small but mighty” horse Great Escape Camelot resembles the dragon from the film.

    Belgium’s Flore de Winn was another to catch the eye, riding the youngest horse in the competition into sixth place on 76.13%. Her ride, 10-year-old Flynn FRH, is a striking black stallion who went in a lovely relaxed frame, yet showing all his power and athleticism. They made a mistake in the first line of one-time tempis, but clawed the marks back through the joker line. Flore didn’t go for a maximum difficulty level on this young horse, but his potential is huge.

    “He did a great job, he was himself and he stayed with me, which is the most important thing,” said Flore. “The crowd was impressive compared to two days ago and we were both a bit amazed by that, but he tried his best as he always does. He’s my best buddy.”

    The FEI vet director Göran Åkerström confirmed afterwards that the blood spotted on Everdale’s gum was minimal.

    “It is the kind of injury that will heal extremely fast, it was not much blood at all,” he said. “There should not be any concerns over the horse or the oral cavity because of it. It was extremely unlucky.”

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