Their dominance of the dressage world has proved to be unprecedented – but has a major championship rival to Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro finally come forward?
Dujardin will arrive home from the FEI European Championships in Aachen with another two individual gold medals added to her enviable collection. The 30-year-old can now be called a double-double European champion, in addition to world champion, Olympic gold medallist and triple world-record holder.
No-one has seriously threatened Dujardin’s reign since those unforgettable scenes at Greenwich Park three years ago, but events in Aachen over the past few days provided more than their fair share of interest.
Dressage history books will forever show that Germany’s Kristina Bröring-Sprehe and Desperados FRH finished second in the 2015 European freestyle final — but that does not tell anywhere near the full story of an occasion when Dujardin’s remarkable gold medal sequence almost came to an end.
Ultimately, they were separated by just 0.25% as Dujardin and Valegro prevailed on a score of 89.054 per cent. Bröring-Sprehe did not so much send a warning signal 12 months before the Rio Olympics — she practically wrote a letter of intent and hand-delivered it.
Speaking on television, British Olympian and world-renowned dressage coach Richard Davison said he felt it was good for the sport that the freestyle title race had been so closely-fought, and many will agree with him after seeing Dujardin challenged like never before when stakes were at their highest.
It was the opening chapter in what could prove to be a dressage best-seller, and there were many in Aachen’s main stadium who felt that home favourite Bröring-Sprehe had done enough for gold. While it was not to be this time around, one wonders whether it might be a different story in Brazil next August?
Dujardin’s brilliance was showcased during Saturday’s grand prix special, which she won by an emphatic margin, but performances in the team grand prix test and freestyle contained uncharacteristic mistakes, although it says everything about the combination’s brilliance that they still topped all three sections in Aachen.
What Bröring-Sprehe did on an overcast Sunday afternoon in Aachen was to plant the tiniest seed of doubt that Dujardin will continue to reign into next year, at Rio and then beyond the 2016 Olympics, and there are not many followers of equestrian sport who genuinely believed that was possible.
“They (Bröring-Sprehe and Desperados) have gone within a minute percentage of actually being able to beat Valegro,” Dujardin’s mentor, trainer and Valegro co-owner Carl Hester said. “Desperados is not an old horse either, so it looks like Valegro suddenly has a new rival.
Olympia in December — a happy hunting ground for Dujardin and — is likely to be the next port of call on their Rio journey, and no-one should be in the least bit surprised if world records are once again threatened or surpassed.
Now, though, it might just be a two-horse race.
Image: Kristina Bröring-Sprehe and Desperados look set to rival Charlotte Dujardin and Desperados, by Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans, courtesy of FEI