Thursday, December 14, 2006

Members of Gulf states royal families compete in Equestrian Endurance

The Associated Press
Published: December 14, 2006

MESAIEED, Qatar: The blue bloods and Bedouins returned to the desert outside Doha for the one event the Arab states considered a formality for a gold medal at the Asian Games.

The 51 jockeys who took off at sunrise in the 120-kilometer (74.5-mile) equestrian endurance ride included 15 members of Gulf royal families in an event designed to define the first Asian Games held in the Arab states.

Hundreds of Qataris drove in their 4x4 vehicles in the desert, including 17-year-old Rashid al-Marri, who camped overnight Wednesday despite heavy rain along with five relatives waiting for the race in which his elder brother, Saoud, was taking part with the Qatari team.

"We are coming to cheer for my brother Saoud," said Al-Marri, a white-and-maroon Qatari flag draped around his neck. "We want him to win the gold medal."

Instead it was the United Arab Emirates team led by Sheik Rashid Al Maktoum, son of Dubai's ruler, that won both individual and team races, followed by Bahrain.

"I did not win this race alone. It is also a win for the coach and the people of the Emirates," said Sheik Rashid, who was riding his father's favorite horse, the chestnut Magic Glenn, or Nashmi.

Bahrain's Sheik Nasser Bin Hamad Bin Isa Al Khalifa, the son of the king of Bahrain, was second onboard the white horse Shar Rushkin, just in front of another Emarati, Sultan Bin Sulayem, on another white horse named Iknour De La Bire.

"We are a real team, no doubt," said Sulayem. "The Sheik trains us, I feel equal to his sons. You might even see him advising riders from other countries, because he wants everyone to improve."

Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid followed the progress of the leading group in a convoy of three 4x4 vehicles. As Sheik Rashid finished the race, his father was waiting for him and gave him a big hug.

The Al-Marri family was just as supportive, at the other end of the field.

As the Qatari rider moved slowly in the last loop of the race, men in 4x4 drove behind honking their horns to encourage the horse to move faster — until al-Marri waved for them to stop.

The king of Bahrain presented the medals to the jockeys, while Qatar's Crown Prince Sheik Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani greeted the three medalists at the finish.

Other members of the Al Maktoum and Al Khalifa families participated in the competition as well as three members of Saudi Arabia's Al Saoud family and three from Qatar's Al Thani ruling family.

The Qatari team included Sheik Mohammed bin Hamad Al Thani, the son of Qatar's emir. Sheik Mohammed had a bigger role on the opening night, when he rode his steed up a ramp the full height of the Khalifa Stadium to light a giant gyroscope-like cauldron to mark the opening of the games.

The 20-year-old Sheik Mohammed was part of the team that won the bronze medal Tuesday.

Thursday's course included five loops, each between 15 kilometers and 30 kilometers (9 miles and 18.5 miles) in length. The first two loops were the longest and the last was the shortest.

The competitors returned to the start point at the end of each loop for a medical examination.

Horses were regularly vetted on the ride, where they were checked for soundness and dehydration.

One of the sons of Dubai's ruler, Sheik Hamdan, did not continue the race after the third loop when his horse failed the test.

Although most people enjoyed the race, several cars were seen near the route stuck in the mud — the drivers clearly were unhappy.

Internatinal Herald Tribune Sports

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