Sunday, November 18, 2007

T'was The Night Before...

This afternoon began the tests with the initial vet checks. They started at about 2 pm with each team walking its horses as they waited for their turn, which gave everyone a chance to size each other up. As far as I could see, about the only teams running home grown horses are the Egyptians and the Libyans; everyone else has horses collected from all over the world. Very athletic, beautiful horses from all over the world. I think that we are basically looking at two races tomorrow: the international horses and the local horses, but I could be wrong. For most of the teams, once the vet check was finished the issue was which horse and rider would be cut to make the six horse team for the race tomorrow morning. Once that was settled there was nothing to do but wait for morning and hope that nothing went wrong overnight.

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All the horses are now gathered at Sakkara Country Club/endurance village waiting the race tomorrow. It will consist of five loops out from the club to the south. The first, the red loop, is the longest at 36 km down to the Red Pyramid and the Bent Pyramid of Dahshur...great photo ops. The second loop, the blue loop, runs south through the gap just west of the Japanese Hill like all the loops, further west to circumnavigate an east/west wadi, then east along the Fayoum/Cairo railway track to Mastabat Pharoan and north again past the Step Pyramid at Sakkara and the pyramids of Abu Sir, a distance of 28 km. Again, there are plenty of nice spots for very cool pictures of riders cantering past antiquities. The third loop, the green loop, leaves south to the Japanese Hill, runs along the north wall of the east/west wadi and then cuts southeast to the railway tracks along the same track as the red loop, but then doubles back to the club with an eastward bow towards the pyramids of Abu Sir for a distance of 21 km. The fourth loop, the yellow loop, was one that we rode part of on Friday and it parallels part of the blue loop southeast from the Japanese Hill towards the Step Pyramid and then cuts northwest of Masabat Pharaon to the railway tracks to make rounded turn back north to the club for a distance of 20 km. The final loop, the black loop, is a straight shot to the railway tracks and back for a distance of 15 km. The black loop is the most suited to a straight out horserace with long stretches of fairly flat sand covered in flint. Most of the other loops contain parts with deep soft sand and the more firm flint covered sand. In many respects, this is not at all an easy course. It is almost exactly the same race as was run in May 2000.

Most of the horses running this course are Arabs and Arab mixes. In the case of the Egyptian and Libyan teams, they are local baladi Arabs...unregistered Arab mixes who are the mainstay of the working equines in Egypt. These hardy, intelligent horses can be seen doing everything from sports to hauling carts here. In the cases of Libya and Egypt, the owners of the horses are quite average individuals who have a few horses rather than a major stable of them.

The Jordanian horses are being supervised by the director of one of the royal stables of Jordan and some of them came from the US Arab race tracks. One good looking but rather unsociable black gelding is the son of the horse who played in the Black Stallion movie. Most of the others were quite personable and happy to make one's acquaintance. Having a famous father must be tough.

A friend of mine had described the Saudi horses as being small, but I didn't notice that at all today. While none of the horses checked today could be called enormous, most of them were fairly average height and weight for the horses in this part of the world. Some of the riders saddled up after the vet check to give news teams from their home countries a chance for some video footage.

Other horses just went back to their boxes in the tennis court barn to relax while teams chatted and waited for the technical briefing in the club restaurant where they would be given a copy of the map of the trail. I was hoping for a copy of the final riders' list as well, but unfortunately the administrator who had the official copy left early for his hotel, so I will have to wait with everyone else until tomorrow morning at 5:45 when the riders set off. When I asked for a copy in the administration office, one of the men there looked at me quite puzzled and asked what team I was with, so I just turned around and let him read the back of my tshirt which says ""... a yellow polo shirt that Steph sent my way with an eastward traveler. Aaaah. One of Steph's minions! Since so many people follow these events on the Teeters' sites, I'm given some rather nice consideration.

On some lighter notes, there are a number of women riders in the race tomorrow. I noticed some weighing in for the Syrian team, and it appeared that there might be one for Bahrain as well, though I could be wrong there. A few of the Jordanian team are quite young, and (although still over twelve) decided that there was some time to enjoy the playground after all. And finally, later in the evening when I'd gone home to grab a bite to eat, a jeep pulled into the farm with a couple of members of the Libyan team who found the dogs here fairly terrifying but who really needed a heavier saddle since one of their riders was having trouble making weight. My farrier asked if I could possibly loan them one of my Saare's which are cruising saddles rather than racing saddles and thus a bit heavier than usual. We got one out for them to look at and they thought that the extra weight might do the trick. The western cinches had them quite bewildered, but there are a couple of grooms at the club who know how my saddles work and can help them. The horse's owner asked how much I wanted to rent them my saddle, but never having rented a saddle to anyone in my life, I couldn't imagine. I pointed out that having come all the way that they had traveled to take part in their first international race, it seemed simply too much of a shame that the lack of weight should stop them from trying to compete...and anyway, since I didn't have a horse in the race, it was pretty cool to have a saddle in it instead. So tomorrow for what it's worth, I'm rooting for my saddle.

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