From Amith Passela - Khaleej Times Online
10 September 2007
ALCOCHETE (Portugal) — Bahrain captured the first major endurance silverware in Europe by claiming the team silver in the FEI European Championship Open Portugal 2007 Qatar Challenge.
France took gold and Spain bagged the bronze in Saturday's 160-kilometre race that saw 88 riders from 20 countries vie for the honours in the biennial event.
Cecile Milleto, silver medallist in the 2000 FEI World Championship and now training some of the horses for the Bahrain Endurance team, said it was a terrific performance from the Gulf nation.
"Bahrain is virtually new to compete in this part of the world and to win silver was a fantastic achievement.
"They have some fine endurance horses and are naturally good riders of long distances.
"They are already a strong team as they have proved in this European Open and I'm sure they'll keep improving all the time. They rode as a team to get on the podium and hopefully win more international medals in the future."
Shaikh Nasser bin Hamad Al Thani, son of the Bahrain king, led the tiny Gulf nation to the podium by taking eighth spot on eight-year-old Basic Instinct.
The others were not far away, finishing in a group, occupying the 12th , 13th and 14th positions, Ghazi Al Dosseri (Baja De Piboul), Mohammed Abdul Aziz Al Hasan (Kefir De Sommaqnt) and Yusuf Ali Taher (Ganda Koy).
Dubai based endurance trainers Jaume Punti Dachs and his wife Maria Alvarez Ponton of Spain said they owed their success to His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
Dachs won the bronze in the European Endurance Open category and silver in the European Championship, and Maria was fourth in the open division and took the bronze in the European Championship.
"Much of our success in endurance racing is due to the opportunity we have had to train horses in Dubai and Spain," said Dachs, who has more than 40 horses in training for Shaikh Mohammed.
The UAE duly retained their hold on the FEI European Endurance Open title but lost a golden opportunity of preserving the team gold after a bizarre last loop.
They led the 160-kilometre trip until the second last loop but all their hopes of retaining the team title evaporated in the final kilometre from the finish line.
The UAE chances of making a sweep of the medals suffered a huge blow with the exit of Shaikh Rashid bin Mohammed Al Maktoum in the penultimate loop, and then his younger brothers, reigning champion Shaikh Hamdan and Shaikh Majid, found their horses tiring with a kilometre left to the finish line.
Mubarak Khalifa Al Shafya, who extended UAE's winning streak in the open category to four on 11-year-old gelding Zakah Zahara, was naturally disappointed that they couldn't complete the double. "We were forced go flat out in the final half of the last 27-kilometre loop. It was an error on our judgment that we lost the team medal.
The European Championship Open Portugal 2007 Qatar Challenge was Shafya's best ever career record since he began riding in endurance races from its very inception in the UAE.
"I'm happy to have won the gold for the UAE but disappointed we lost the team gold after coming so close to winning it again. Shafya is the new trainer for Shaikh Mohammed.
"I have been on the job for only a month and looking forward to the new challenge."
The UAE's hopes of retaining the team gold suffered the first set-back when Shaikh Rashid's 10-year-old gelding Spenda Crest Karnouflage was vetted out for lameness in the fifth loop.
Shaikh Rashid was with the leading group with the UAE holding the first five places at that stage of the race. Yet, they were on course for the gold with Shaikh Hamdan and his younger brothers Shaikh Majid and Shaikh Ahmed on the loop.
Shaikh Ahmed had an early setback. He lost ground when his mount Jazyk lost a shoe in the middle of the opening loop, but the 2002 FEI World Champions stayed in the loop and eventually finished 16 th.
Shaikh Hamdan on Kaysand Farrazah dropped down in the order.