It was the American writer Mark Twain who popularised the expression, “Lies, damned lies, and statistics”.
It refers to the usefulness of statistics to boost pretty much any argument you choose.
So, with that in mind, I’m going to compare the results of the big national (CEN) 100km endurance ride staged at Al Wathba, in Abu Dhabi, on Thursday last week to the big 100km race staged at Al Wathba in October last year.
The endurance results on the Emirates Equestrian Federation website show a few qualifying events in the previous month, but last week’s Al Wathba race was billed in the media as the season opener – and, of course, was staged under FEI rules.
There were strict limits on the number of helpers within the vet gate areas and, on my understanding, the water points located along the course were, for all intents and purposes, designed to do away with the massive and controversial fleet of support vehicles that followed the riders around the course in the past.
There were five four-wheel-drive vehicles up for grabs as prizes, illustrating the professional level of the sport in the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
The UAE was provisionally suspended by the FEI earlier this year over endurance infractions which gave rise to horse welfare concerns. The UAE returned to the fold in time for this year’s endurance season in the region, but only on condition it submit to a raft of conditions, which include strict adherence to FEI rules and regulations.
I believe the numbers that follow below could be used to support pretty much any argument you choose, so I’m going to refrain from making any comment, except that the numbers of horses that failed to complete last week seemed worryingly high.
Hence we have our “Lies, damned lies, and statistics”. One could argue that the high numbers of non-finishers was testament to the heightened vigilance of the veterinarians manning the vet gates. Conversely, you could argue that maybe too many horses are being pushed too hard.
Hence, you be the judge.
First, let’s go back to October 31 last year – long before the UAE’s provisional suspension – when Al Wathba hosted a CEN 100km endurance race.
There were 174 starters, 113 of whom did not qualify. That’s 64.9% of the starters. The event had four vet gates, with loops of 32km, 26km, 22km and 20km.
Let’s jump forward to last week’s season opener at Al Wathba, which had a considerably smaller field of starters, with 108. It employed three vet gates, with two loops of 40km and a final loop of 20km. The results show that 88 did not qualify, amounting to 81.48% of the starters.
So, let’s go back to the 2014 race and look at the fate of the 113 who did not qualify. Thirty-four went out at vet gate 1, 41 at gate 2, 33 at gate 3 and five at the last gate.
In all, 10 were listed as failing to complete, 49 went out as a result of lameness, 12 were eliminated on metabolic grounds, one was vetted out with a minor injury, five were out of time, 35 were retired by the rider, and one was disqualified for taking a shortcut.
Looking now at the 88 who did not qualify in last week’s Wathba ride; 39 went out at the first vet gate, 46 at the second gate and only three at the last gate.
In all, 25 went out because of lameness, 29 as a result of metabolic reasons, 14 were out of time, and 20 were retired by riders.
Finally, let’s compare the winning time in each event. Last week’s winner was Ali Mohd Ali Al Hosani, riding for the Al Reef stables. His winning time was 4hr 1min 17sec, with average speeds of 27.175kmh for loop one, 25.417kmh for the second loop and 24.867kmh for the last loop.
Now, let’s look at last year’s race, won by Rashid Mohd Ibrahim Al Baloushi, of the Emaar Endurance Stables, in 3hr 36min 36sec, edging out the second place-getter by only two seconds. The average speed on the four loops were recorded as 26.277kmh, 26.7776kmh, 26.981kmh, and 27.701kmh.
If you love statistics, check out the 2014 ride here and last week’s ride here.