A high quality five-star grand prix class set the stage for top-drawer action on Wednesday, with winners Frederic Wandres (GER) and Bluetooth OLD making their 76.196% season debut to much acclaim in the CDI5* FEI Grand Prix, sponsored by Douglas Elliman Real Estate. It was a German one-two, with the 23-year-old Felicitas Hendricks piloting Drombusch OLD (by Destano) to second with 71.283% and Kevin Kohmann finishing best of the US riders in third, clocking up 70.826% on Diamante Farms’ 15-year-old Dünensee (by Dancier). It was tight at the top as less than one percentage point covered the third to seventh place finishers. (The two Canadians in the class, Naïma Moreira Laliberté with Statesman and Camille Carier Bergeron riding Finnländerin, placed 10th and 15th, respectively.)

It was the opening day of week 10, five-star week, of the 2024 Adequan® Global Dressage Festival (AGDF) in Wellington, FL. AGDF 2024, which hosts seven weeks of CDI competition over three months, runs through March 31. This CDI5* show is one of the brightest jewels on Florida’s extensive dressage calendar, and the only CDI5* held in the Americas.

The CDI5* FEI Grand Prix, sponsored by Douglas Elliman Real Estate — which acts as a qualifier for the Grand Prix Special the Grand Prix Freestyle classes, both being held on Friday evening — took place under lights at the neighboring Wellington International venue, in the enormous main stadium International Arena. The facility, a stone’s throw from dressage’s usual venue, is the permanent home of the Winter Equestrian Festival (WEF), which hosts 13 weeks of hunter and jumper shows.

Wandres, 36, was trending close to the 80% mark in the first half of the test, but a mistake in the one-time changes — which carry a double marking coefficient and were awarded fours and fives from all the judges — dragged the final score below his and Bluetooth’s career high of 77.888%, set at the European Championships in September 2023. Despite the one mistake, Wandres’ performance on his employer Hof Kasselmann’s 14-year-old Oldenburg gelding (by Bordeaux x Riccione) got the unanimous nod from all five judges for its harmonious, powerful and relaxed presentation despite five months away from the competition arena.

“I had a super expensive mistake, the one-tempi mistake, but the rest of the test felt pretty flawless and super nice,” said Wandres, who trains with his partner Lars Ligus, and also with the German team coach Monica Theodorescu, who was in Wellington to watch the pair ahead of the selection process for the Paris Olympic Games this summer. “Bluetooth had a winter break, and came back into the arena fresh and allowed me to ride him in a super harmonious way. I’m a little bit angry with myself for the mistake — it was my mistake, not his — but it’s okay, we are in the beginning of the season for him.

“He had a hard summer last year showing very consistently, so he earned himself a break from the show scene,” he explained of the decision to delay the start to the horse’s 2024 competition season in order to have him at peak fitness for the Games. “He’s really enjoyed the sun here, and we took time to invest into the small details, and I think that worked tonight. The mistake is something I can fix, and I’m looking personally more for other things; like presenting to the judges in a super harmonious way, in a good frame, with a happy horse and always light in the contact.”

In December 2013, Bluetooth was sold at the PSI Auction in Germany for €1 million (approximately $1.3 million USD at the time), and Wandres noticed the leggy bay gelding, but never expected that he would become his trusted grand prix partner. However, years later he was offered the ride, and the pair made their international grand prix debut in April 2021, and have been a hot commodity ever since, posting wins on both sides of the planet.

Wandres praised the horse’s ability to rise to an occasion, saying, “He’s a very sensitive horse, but in a positive way. Two years ago, he would go kind of shy, but now he gets the feeling of presenting himself and becoming bigger. That’s what I like, that over the years they get more self-confidence to shine — and shine bright in the right moments. He takes that and becomes more expressive.”

The pair will contest the CDI5* Grand Prix Special on Friday, as in Paris that is the test that will determine the team medals, so a high-scoring performance is crucial for their Olympic campaign.

Dressage competition resumes on Thursday at the usual Adequan® Global Dressage venue, Equestrian Village. Action includes the Fair Sky Farm FEI Grand Prix CDI3*, which boasts a huge line-up of 33 combinations at 10:45 a.m. There is also a Donato Farms CDI1* Prix St. Georges, and an Under 25 Grand Prix, sponsored by Diamante Farms. AGDF 10 runs through Sunday. For more information and results, visit www.globaldressagefestival.com.

Click HERE for full results from the FEI Grand Prix CDI5*, presented by Douglas Elliman Real Estate.