The FEI has been singing the praises of its world championship endurance race in Normandy, but I’m yet to be convinced that everyone will see it that way.
No doubt the views of the competitors will emerge over the next few days, but certainly there are questions swirling around a race in which only 38 of 174 competitors finished.
That’s 174 of the world’s elite endurance horses and 174 of the finest riders, competing in a race in which only 22.4 percent of them finished.
The 160km course around the Bay of Mont Saint Michel has always been described as a technical and challenging course. That is unquestionably as it should be.
The world championship needs to challenge each and every competitor. However, it was would seem that the five-loop course around Sartilly was overly demanding after heavy rain made the going even tougher.
There is, after all, a fine line between a challenging course and a brutal one.
The chairman of the FEI Endurance Committee, Brian Sheahan, declared himself happy with the event.
“This event really deserved the title of World Championships today,” he said.
“There has been a great deal of sportsmanship and co-operation with riders. It’s been a world-class event that I am proud to be associated with.
“This was a World Equestrian Games and the course was extremely technical and extremely challenging,” he said. “The weather made it even tougher and the vets were extremely careful to ensure that the horses were protected at all times, meaning that the number of finishers was unexpectedly low for a championship.”
Unexpectedly low? Some might consider the number of finishers to be disappointingly low.
Germany, New Zealand, Canada, the Czech Republic, Japan and Norway will be heading home with their collective tails between their legs, having failed to get even one finisher.
Bahrain, Costa Rica, Malaysia, Portugal, Uruguay, the United States, and Belgium each managed to get only one competitor home in their respective teams.
Sheahan is absolutely right to praise the careful vetting that ensured the protection of the horses. That, of course, is the first priority. And it is hard to disagree with his view that the low number of finishers proved the stringent veterinary protocols were working.
Unfortunately, the high rate of attrition rapidly reduced the field and, in the end, one has to wonder what kind of spectacle the latter half of the race presented for spectators, given that the event is intended to be the international showcase for the sport.
Tragically, a horse was lost and no doubt we will hear more of the circumstance in the next few days. The Costa Rican mount Dorado died instantly near the end of the first loop when its head struck a tree beside the the track in a forested area. His rider, Claudio Romero Chacon, required surgery for fractures and internal injuries. She is reported to be in a serious but stable condition in hospital after surgery.
The final verdict will only emerge once we hear from those who tackled the Sartilly course.
No matter what will ultimately be said of the course, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, of the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and his mount, Yamamah, are deserving winners. The race results show his speeds around the five loops were remarkably consistent. He took the lead early on and stayed there. Perhaps he wisely believed that the best footing would be in front of the field?
Interestingly, for a team that had a carefully planned buildup in Europe and must have held aspirations for the team gold (won by Spain), Sheikh Hamdan was the only one of five UAE riders to finish the race.
Boy, it must have been tough out there.