From Amith Passela
ALCOCHETE (Portugal) – The UAE retained their FEI European Championship Open titles by claiming individual gold medal in yesterday’s Portugal 2007 Qatar Challenge. UAE's Mubarak Khalifa Al Shafya astride Zakah Zahara won the 160km race. Asian Games broze medallist Sultan bin Sulayem crossed the finish line first by his horse Nashmi was disqualified.
His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and the Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, joined the celebrations after flying straight from his state visits to Vietnam and China.
The UAE had a dream start but suffered late blows to their chances of retaining the team gold when Shaikh Rashid bin Mohammed Al Maktoum’s 10-year-old chestnut Spenda Cresta Karnouflage was vetted out for lameness in the second last loop when he was in the leading group with the UAE, occupying the top five places.
Reigning champion Shaikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, who changed his riding plans twice before jumping onboard 11-year-old Kaysand Farrazah, finished down the order after leading most of the way and his younger brother Shaikh Majid didn’t finish after holding every chance in the final kilometre of the race.
Shaikh Ahmed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, rode a splendid race after his 10-year-old gelding Jazyk lost the left hind shoe in the middle of the opening 34.5km loop.
The 2002 FEI World Champions lost a lot of ground and trailed in 82nd from the 88 riders who were flagged off in foggy weather at 6.30am local time.
The early morning weather was an ideal start but the underfoot conditions were dry, sandy and hard. It turned hot and humid as the day progressed, but according to the locals, it was the best weather for such an event in the whole week.
It had been hotter and humid throughout the last three days, but the pleasant morning weather and a light breeze that continued to hold through the day was some bliss for the horses. The track threaded through the cork-oak forest and rice paddies provided a fine backdrop to compromise for the dusty underfoot conditions.
The UAE team held sway from the onset and led throughout the race. They occupied the first five places with Sultan bin Sulayem leading the opening loop from Shaikh Majid, Mubarak Khalifa Al Shafya, Shaikh Rashid and Shaikh Dubai Hamdan, in that order, only a few seconds separating them.
The reigning European champion Kristel van den Abeele on 10-year-old gelding Epson De La Bruskaie came in a close sixth ahead of Dubai based Maria Alvarez Ponton (Nobby) and Jaume Punti Dachs (Elvis Hab) riding under the Spanish flag.
The next loop remained almost the same with Shaikh Hamdan leading the UAE group ahead of Shaikh Majid, Shaikh Rashid, Shafya and Sulayem.
Fahad Munib Al Hajeri of Qatar moved up three places to finish sixth in front of Alvarez Ponton and Dachs with Van den Abeele in ninth. Italian Fausto Fiorucci on Jaifar moved up five places to finish 10th.
Hajeri’s Australian bred 11-year-old gelding Pravado was vetted out in at the end of the 27.5km third loop.
It left the two Spaniards, Van den Abeele, Philippe Tomas (Joel Cabirat) of France and German Sabrina Arnold (Jestime) in the top 10.
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