Laura Graves and Verdades (USA) will be looking to go one better than their 2017 result. Photo: FEI

By Alice Collins

Two titans of the dressage scene, the reigning champion Isabell Werth and the USA’s Laura Graves — ranked fourth in the world — go head-to-head this week in Paris at the season finale World Cup final, in a repeat of 2017’s tussle that resulted in Isabell winning on Weihegold OLD and Laura finishing runner-up on Verdades in Omaha, Nebraska. 

Laura (with Verdades) is the only rider to have beaten Isabell on Weihegold OLD since Valegro pulled off the feat to win individual gold at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Laura beat Isabell in the grand prix special at Aachen in July 2017. Weihegold, a 13-year-old mare by Don Schufro, has won 18 of the last 19 classes she has contested. With Isabell in the plate, the pair are ranked number one in the world.

Friday the 13th may be unlucky for some, but this year action kicks off in the dressage World Cup final on that much-maligned date, today. Riders from 13 nations are entered, with the most — three of each — being fielded by Germany and the Netherlands. 

The tussle for gold is likely to come from Isabell and Laura — who will ride her new freestyle, crafted specifically to maximise the degree of difficulty score available through the new FEI computer system, which will be in use in Paris. But there are also some other notable names on the illustrious start list.

The Netherlands’ Edward Gal brings his emerging star Glock’s Zonik NOP, while Zonik’s sire, the impressive Blue Hors Zack, is also competing, under the saddle of Danish rider Daniel Bachmann Andersen. Sweden’s Patrik Kittel — who recently announced that he and his wife, the Australian Olympian Lyndal Oatley are expecting their first child in October — will ride Deja.

The second American combination is Shelly Francis and Patricia Stempel’s Danilo, who are fresh off the plane from a profitable season competing at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington, Florida.

This final is comprised of 18 riders from around the globe, all of whom have come through 10 months of qualifiers across four leagues. Competition consists of the grand prix set test, which helps to determine the order of go for the freestyle to music on Saturday (April 14), from which — as a stand-alone score — the winner is crowned.