UAE Rules World Endurance

By September 2, 2012
Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum rides his horse across the finish line in the rain.

Individual Gold-medal winner Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum rides Madji du Pont to the finish in a light rain. (Photo by Gilly Wheeler)

The UAE solidified its rank as an endurance superpower on Aug. 26, sweeping the Longines FEI World Endurance Championship, which took place in Euston Park, England.

The race had a rocky conclusion when heavy rain and thunder forced the event to a halt before its natural conclusion. Although the top 52 individuals and top four teams had already crossed the wire, and the medals had been decided, some of the slower competitors had yet to start the sixth and final loop. Safety concerns prompted the organizers to call the race, and finishes were awarded according to placement at the time the race was stopped.

But in terms of using this World Championship to qualify for the 2016 World Equestrian Games, 20 of the starters that hadn’t made it through the sixth loop were only credited for a 140 km race rather than the entire 160 km. In all, 147 horse and rider pairs  from 38 countries started at this 14th WEC, wtih 52 of them completing the entire 160 km (approximately 100 miles).

In the end, it was the sun-worshipping United Arab Emirates that made it a clean sweep, wining every medal! Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum steered Madji du Pont to take the individual Gold ahead of fellow-countryman HE Sheikh Rashid Dalmook Al Maktoum who rode Yamamah to Silver, while countryman Ali Khalfan Al Jahouri and Vendaval claimed individual Bronze.

When the combined scores of Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Rashid were added to those of Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, who finished sixth with Kangoo D’Aurabelle, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) also claimed team gold on a time of 21:22:37, which put them a full two hours ahead of the silver medallists from France. Oman took team bronze, while the USA slotted into fourth place with a combined time of 24:45:00.

Gold-winning United Arab Emirates team

UAE team, from left: United Arab Emirates: Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Rashid Dalmook al Maktoum, Majid bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, Hamdan bin Mohammed al Maktoum. (Photo by Gilly Wheeler / FEI)

That’s the most competitive finish the U.S. has had at an FEI endurance competition in years. “It was a fantastic finish for us,” USA team chef d’equipe Emmett Ross said. “We had a plan and it worked. It was a very competitive field, as the world gets up to snuff and more and more competition comes on stream. The USA is back!”

The first U.S. rider to cross the finish line was Margaret “Meg” Sleeper (Frenchtown, NJ), who was riding as an individual. Riding Syrocco Reveille, she finished 11th with a time of 07:49:11 and an average speed of 20.46 kph (12.71 mph).

Valerie Kanavy (Fort Valley, VA) was the first U.S. team member to finish, with Reach For The Gold, in 20th place (08:00:06). Jeremy Reynolds (Dunellon, FL) and A Kutt Above finished right behind her in 21st place (08:00:09)

Reynolds is the top-placed U.S. rider on the FEI’s Meyden Endurance Open Riders World Ranking, at No. 23. (Individual winner Sheikh Al Maktoum is ranked No. 22). Reynold’s wife, Heather Reynolds, finished the race at Eustace Park 36th, on Riverwatch (08:44:45).

One of the top USA riders―West River, MD’s John Crandell III and Heraldic ―had an unfortunate setback, failing a mandatory re-check at Vet Check 5.

The 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games Gold medalist Maria Alvarez Ponton of Spain finished fourth with her WEG partner Nobby. Ponton was attempting to match the record set by America’s Becky Hart, winner of three world titles in succession in 1988, 1990 and 1992 riding the great RO Grand Sultan.

Nobby’s whose ability to cope with an incredible variety of terrain has made the 17-year-old horse something of a legend in his lifetime. The duo, which averaged a speed of 22.18 km per hour, were nudged out of Bronze Al Jahouri , who was competing as an individual. But for many, Nobby has already penned his name into the history books as the greatest endurance horse of all time.

The Best Conditioned Horse was Ikland ridden by Alex Luque Moral of Spain. The pair finished fifth individually.

U.S. rider John Crandell and Heraldic get ready to race.

John Crandell and Heraldic (Photo by Ximena Merino)

Although the weather threw an unexpected curve ball at the organizers, it turned out that those who were able to complete the race did so safely the next day, after it was determined that it would be too risky to ride it out that night. “We called the local police and the nearby airforce base who checked on their weather radar, and when we were told the storm would continue until after dark, which was possibly two hours later, we decided that we couldn’t take the risk to carry on in those conditions,” FEI’s Director of Non-Olympic Sports Ian Williams explained. “It was the best decision to take and we produced a final classification in terms of distance travelled and their times for the lower placings, so everyone was happy.”

Euston Park, where the Championship took place, is part of the estate of Henry Oliver Charles FitzRoy, the 12th Duke of Grafton, who at Friday’s opening ceremony welcomed the riders from all over the globe, explaining that the track was the culmination of nearly a decade of development at the venue, which first staged an endurance ride in 2005.

The course, which also crossed into surrounding farmland, certainly proved tough and testing, with a variety of terrain from forest tracks to grassland and sand. “To compete for your country at this level takes years of dedication and hard work to develop the special partnership between horse and rider, and supreme athleticism to complete that gruelling 100 miles in one day,” FitzRoy said.

Reflecting on his double gold performance, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum said his horse, Madji du Pont, “gave me a wonderful ride―all the way through he felt incredible!” One of the world’s leading racehorse owners, Sheikh Mohammed noted that he only competes in endurance racing because he enjoys it. “I do not go out to get a result, I go out to have fun. I do not try to change position, but ride my own ride.”

The USA World Endurance Championship team stands with their unsaddled horses before an orchard of greenery.

The USA's 2012 World Endurance Championship team: (L to R) Heather Reynolds, Jeremy Reynolds, Meg Sleeper, John Crandell, Becky Hart, Valerie Kanavy and Nicki Meuton. (Photo courtesy of the United States Equestrian Federation)

Speaking after the closing ceremony at Euston Hall, FEI First Vice President John McEwen marveled over how far the sport has come. “I have been involved with endurance riding for nearly 30 years and have watched it grow almost from its infancy. Yesterday was a showcase for the discipline and a wonderful sporting occasion. I had the privilege of being out on course for two of the loops and seeing the riders and crews at work and the atmosphere was incredible.”

McEwen also watched the finish, and said “the horses came in after 160km in superb condition. The level of this sport, particularly the standard in managing the horses, is extremely high. Watching the best condition award the morning after the event is something more people should see. The way in which the horses came out is simply amazing – some of the grooms even had difficulty holding them. They all look as though they could comfortably go out and do it again, which is how it should be.”

The FEI’s Williams added that from a technical point of view, the Championship was had been faultless. “We had a venue in Euston Park that was outstanding and a track that challenged the best in the world. It produced competitive performances of the highest level. What we have here (at Euston Park) is a wonderful legacy with a venue that has been developed over the years to an exceptional level on a green-field site and that can be used for events of this kind in the future.”

Individual results here.

Team results here.

General Information: http://www.eustonparkendurance.co.uk/

To see a video that showcases the course and venue, click here.

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