Thursday, December 15, 2005

Shaikh Ahmed to ride in today?s National Day Cup

By Amith Passela

15 December 2005

ABU DHABI ? The 2002 FEI World Equestrian Endurance Champion Shaikh Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Maktoum takes a crack at today?s National Day Cup before heading to Bahrain for Saturday?s FEI World Endurance Championship for Junior and Young Riders.

Shaikh Ahmed, 18, lead?s a strong six-member UAE team after missing out on his senior title defence in Dubai last year due to illness. He will be an obvious favourite for the Bahrain event that has drawn a record 33 countries and for the first time is being staged in the Middle East.

Shaikh Ahmed was slated to ride 11-year-old Arabian gelding Rafail Stormy Petrel in the First Gulf Bank sponsored CEI Three-Star race run over 120 kilometres here at the Emirates International Endurance Village in Al Wathba.

Shaikh Ahmed will have the company of his elder brother Shaikh Hamdan, who is set to ride seven-year-old mare Ro Fantasia. They have had a lot of success both at international and domestic competitions to start among the favourites for today?s prize.

The National Day Cup was run in Dubai last year as a prelude to the 2004 FEI World Championship. General Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and UAE Minister of Defence, and Shaikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Minister of Presidential Affairs, were declared joint winners of that ride.

Shaikh Hamdan and Shaikh Ahmed will face the strongest challenge from the in-form Al Reef and host Al Wathba Stables from the field of over 100 entries.

Al Reef is on song. They have made a clean sweep of the season?s four rides, including the two races for Juniors and Young Riders, and would be looking to extend their winning streak by grabbing the first of the two big endurance silverwares in Abu Dhabi.

They have nominated the biggest list of entries led by Yousef Ahmed Al Bloushi, who has won both the senior rides of the new season.

Yousef?s stable companion Abdulla Khamis Ali Saeed has a fantastic record in this race to be another front-runner for the coveted prize.

Yousef will be astride 13-year-old gelding Spoutnik and Abdulla Khamis onboard nine-year-old grey Peoria Valediction.

Al Wathba?s lead-man Ali Khalfan Al Jahouri hasn?t had the desired results so far, but can strike when spearheads the home challenge on nine-year-old mare Nuit Fauve, a daughter of flat race horse sire Nuits St Georges.

Ali Al Muahiri and Mubarak Khalifa bin Shafya have definite chances of claiming a share of the prize provided a trouble free run, and so are the Dubai based Spanish quartet of Shaikh Mohammed endurance training wing Antonio Moreno, Eduard Pou Fabrego, Jaume Punti Dachs and Maria Alvarez.

Rebecca and Stefanie Arnold have flown in from Germany, and Janice Worthington from the US, to be among the UAE based international riders that include Iona Rossely of Ireland, Australian Adrian Brickly, Abdul Hafiz Al Turkomani of Saudi Arabia and a number of Asian and Arab expatriates from the endurance stables.

The race scheduled at 6.15am will be run over five loops of 32km, 30km, 24km, 18km and 16km. Some stages of the race will take the riders through forest areas for the first time in the redesigned loops. The top 10 riders to finish will share a purse of Dh 600,000.

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