Wednesday, November 14, 2007

From A Club To A Village

Most of the time Sakkara Country Club is a fairly quiet place where Cairenes come to get away from the city smog, let their children have riding lessons, and read or chat by the pool. The past few days it has been undergoing a major transition to become an endurnance village in the style of the UAE under the guidance of a team from Abu Dhabi. The grass paddock where mares and foals used to graze or children would be led on ponies has had pristine white trot out lanes erected for the past two weeks. The vet gates are placed next to the wooden playground with the sign warning that the equipment is only for children under twelve, but no one is taking time to sit on the swings with tents for the press and important visitors to be constructed. As the teams arrive, the sounds of drills, spray painters and hammers are wafting on the autumn breeze in place of birdcalls and horse chatter from the stables, but the work looks good to be finished in time for the Monday race.

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Many of the members' horses have been moved to neighbouring stables to afford some boxes for the visitors. The Qatar team have been here for almost two weeks on their way home from France. Interestingly, this weekend is the Egyptian International and National Horse Show at the EAO (the Egyptian government stud in Ain Shams) and the line up for the International show is said to be spectacular as many of the horses have come to Cairo en route to a big halter show in the Gulf. Cairo is filled with horses right now.

I stopped by the lonely help desk to find some young people there who were more than happy to help, but who didn't know much about the technical issues I wanted to follow..I suspect that it's going to be much more of a generic help desk. But as I spoke to them I spotted an old friend who works with the Dubai team and the informational log jam broke. He was able to confirm that the set up and the track are being supervised by an organisational team from Abu Dhabi. He was on the team that was arranging the races in 2000 when Egypt was introduced to endurance racing, and said happily that he was enjoying just competing this time. He couldn't stop to chat as he had to meet people. Everyone is hustling now.

The trail looks like a recap of the trail used in the 2000 120 km race with a long loop that comes out of the club and south to the pyramids of Dahshur and then back again. The second and third loops will also leave the club to the south and then branch to the right and then to the left respectively. The encroachment of the Giza municipal dump and the sand and gravel miners on the desert to the west of the club has eliminated any trails to the immediate west or north. The quarries provide trails in abundance but not the sort of trails that are of interest in this racing climate, and they aren't all that photogenic.

The tennis courts at the club have been taken over by an army of men with screwdrivers and paint sprayers who are erecting temporary boxes for visitors. Previously, some of the teams have stabled at farms close to the club, but this is probably a better solution. At this point, it isn't completely clear how many teams are coming. There will be Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Syria, Libya, Bahrain, possibly Jordan, and of course Egypt. I will visit the offices of the set up team at the club to try to get a list of horses and riders today. Endurance riding doesn't even ping on the news radar in Egypt so there have been virtually no public statements available.

In all the bustle of construction, the people working with the horses are on their own more relaxed schedules. All the training that can be done has been and now everyone is just seeing that the horses are calm and healthy, going for walks in the desert and taking them out to graze on the grass at the edge of the desert. Showjumpers from participating countries are joining endurance colleagues as they finish with their competitions and the talk is all horses of course. The Libyans are newcomers and finding the scene a bit daunting, but one of the Qatari riders was saying that they've been encouraging their Libyan counterparts to enjoy the competition and figure out how it all works to be ready for more in the future. The brightly painted horse truck that they used for transport will probably have to give way to air transport at some time.

The Syrian horses were supposed to come in last night and the temporary boxes should be pretty much done by this afternoon, so I expect to see more activity at the club when I check there after my daily schedule of trail rides and lessons for kids. Hopefully, I will find out who is riding for Egypt as well. At this point, I know that one of my neighbours was nominated to the team, but he was expressing some concern about the footing for the trail. The desert here is empty sand with a sprinkling of flint on top. The horses usually sink into the sand enough that the stones don't bruise but the minimum four to six inch layer of soft sand that they have to cope with does take its toll on the tendons. The "trail" is not a track, groomed or otherwise and while the organisers will try to select the best footing, there will be deep spots as well. The temperatures are looking good for riding, with projected highs of about 26 C (about 78 F), fairly low humidity and mixed sun and clouds.

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