By M. Satya Narayan, Staff Reporter
Aachen: Spaniard Miguel Villa Ubach came from nowhere to bag the gold in the endurance championship at the World Equestrian Games yesterday.
The 13-km final stage came to a dramatic end after leader Shaikh Rashid Bin Mohammad Al Maktoum's chances of the gold ended on the slippery track amid pouring rain. Sultan Bin Sulayem, riding Galagolan du Desert, produced a sterling show to finish eighth after being placed 22nd at one point during the ride.
With the visibility almost nil, the final loop of the 160-km race crippled all top six riders, which included Shaikh Rashid, Portugal's Raposa, Spain's Jaume Punti Dachs, Belgian Valerie Ceunick and Bahrain's Shaikh Duaij Bin Salman Al Khalifa, none of them figuring in the top three.
The 32-year-old Ubach, 1999 European Open champion riding eight-year-old grey gelding Hungares, was eighth midway through the stage. He, however, came up with a searing finish to win the gold, while the French duo of Virginie Atger and Elodie Le Labourier took the silver and bronze.
The battle for the team honours was still on at the time of going to the press.
Earlier in the morning, the five-member UAE team lined up with 152 other riders from 41 countries to underline their domination in the sport.
His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance and Industry, followed the progress of the UAE riders. But even before the end of the first two stages, the UAE suffered major setbacks.
The rain-affected terrain took its toll and Shaikh Hamdan Bin Mohammad Al Maktoum's 10-year-old Bay Arabian gelding Nashmi (lame) and Shaikh Mayed Bin Mohammad Al Maktoum's 11-year-old Hera de la Crouz (metabolic) made an early exit.
With the double-exit, the UAE's chances of a team gold vanished, but Shaikh Rashid Bin Mohammad Al Maktoum, 2002 World champion Shaikh Ahmad Bin Mohammad Al Maktoum and Sultan Bin Sulayem were still in the fray.
However, Shaikh Ahmad, riding Jazyk, and Shaikh Rashid on Keroual du Breuil brought UAE to the front when they finished ahead of the pack after the fourth loop.
However, an overzealous official shouted and upset Shaikh Rashid's horse and UAE ace lost about three to four crucial moments. That left Shaikh Ahmad as the leader and Shaikh Rashid in third place with Portugal's Jaoa Raposo in between.
Shaikh Rashid made up in the fifth leg to finish first but the UAE suffered another setback when Shaikh Ahmad's horse went lame just before going out on the final loop.
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