Thursday, November 06, 2008

[WEC Reports] Shaikh Hamdan Backs UAE to Win Title Despite Pulling Out

Allaam Ousman

7 November 2008

KUALA TERENGGANU (MALAYSIA) - Shaikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, was confident UAE could win the team title at the 12th FEI World Endurance Championship despite opting to compete in the individual race after his fancied horse Jazyk was detected with a swollen eye.

"I pulled out from the team and will ride in the individual race because Jazyk is not 100 per cent ready," said Shaikh Hamdan after the Pre-Ride veterinary inspection of horse and weigh-in of riders on Thursday morning.

Shaikh Majed bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who arrived on Thursday morning with Shaikh Hamdan, will now spearhead the UAE challenge for the team title riding Spenda Crest Kamouflage.

The other three team members are Mohammed Ahmed Al Subose (Koum Des Jamets), Abdullah Thani Bin Huzaim (Castlebard Kadeen) and Mubarak Khalifa Bin Shafya (Zakah Zahara). Sultan Ahmed Sultan Bin Sulayem (Tazoul El Parry) will be the other rider vieing for individual honours.

"I'm hoping that the team will win," said Shaikh Hamdan who will be mounting Kaysand Farrazah.

Asked whether the team was upset because of his withdrawal, Shaikh Hamdan said: "They cannot be upset. This is sport. I cannot give 100 per cent with Jazyk."

He acknowledged that his was a tactical withdrawal. "Jazyk is one of best horses. I know him well. He knows me well. We read each other's eyes. But it's bad luck he is not fully ready," said Shaikh Hamdan.

Replying to a question regarding UAE's failure to win the team title in the world championships, Shaikh Hamdan pointed out that victories in several European events proved that they had the pedigree to claim that elusive title.

The high level of humidity will be the X-factor for riders and horses which will flag off on Friday at 5.30pm (1.30pm UAE time) from Terengganu International Endurance Park (TIEP). But Shaikh Hamdan said it would not weigh heavily on the UAE team.

"We are quite acclimatised to race in all weather conditions. It doesn't matter whether it rains or not," said Shaikh Hamdan when asked whether he would welcome rain.

In fact soon after their arrival the first drops of rain fell and the skies opened out later in the evening.

More rain is forecast on Friday with locals saying it rains this time of the year especially in the night.

Dubai Racing Channel will provide live television broadcast of the race from 1pm UAE time.

Approximately 130 riders from 30 countries passed the Pre-Ride Veterinary Inspection test of horses and weigh-in of riders conducted on Thursday morning by the Veterinary Commission and the Ground Jury at the TIEP.

"Everything is okay here except the heat," said UAE trainer Bin Shafya speaking to Khaleej Times after the inspections. "We have no problems with the track and don't feel any pressure because we are ready. The humidity is the only problem.

"Back home despite the heat there is wind because terrain is flat. Here there is no wind because of forest," he explained.

He added that they had no problem of racing in the night because they have experience of it.

But he was optimistic they would perform to the high expectations. "Insha Allah with a little bit of luck we will do well," he said.

UAE team vet Mario Castro said the horses were ready and in very good condition. "We have a good team. We'll try our best to keep the Emirates flag flying high," he said.

Another UAE equestrian official expected the average speed of the race to be in the range of 15kph.

"The trail looks good during daytime but in the night it's different. There are a lot of sharp turns. We are set for an interesting night," he said.

Some competitors were even praying for rain though for different reasons.

Two-time world champion Valerie Kanavy of the US who had been training in the soft desert sands of Florida was one of them.

"The track has become hard because of the lack of rain. It will be tough on the horses," she said showing the caring side of women for their mount.

However, Bahrain's decision to train in the beaches of south west France could backfire.

Their French trainer Cecile Miletto also expressed concern about the safety of riders because it was a night race.

"I'm scared because they could lose their way in a night race and could not be tracked unlike during daytime," she said. "The conditions look good but the big difficulty is the humidity. However, it will be the same for everybody," said Miletto who rates France and UAE as the favourites to lift the title.

"Our horses trained in the cool climes of Europe because we expected it to rain during the championship. They would also be affected by the heat and humidity," she said.

Asked why more women have won the individual title than men in the world endurance championship, she said it was probably because they are more sensitive.

"Men are fiercely competitive driving the horses to the limits while women are more caring," she said. "We are more patient and work all day," quipped Kanavy who is aiming for her third world title.

Reigning world team champions France are wary of the favourites tag and the weather.

"It's really hot here and difficult because of the high high humidity," said European individual champion Jean Philippes Frances.

"It's a special race because it is in the night. We expect a lot but nobody know how the weather will affect the outcome," he said also expressing disappointment after Spain's top rider Jaume Punti Dachs pulled out after his horse went lame.

However, Qatar's Atta Mohammed Beer believes the humidity in Terengganu could work to the advantage of Midde Eastern countries.

"The climate in the Middle East is similar to that of Malaysia. Horses play a crucial part in this sport and the climate has not affected our mounts," he said.

Posted By Merri to WEC Reports at 11/06/2008 09:41:00 PM

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