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Spanish rider wins World Endurance Championships

November 9, 2008

FEI World Endurance Champion, Spain's Maria Alvarez Ponton and Nobby. © Gilly Wheeler

Spanish rider Maria Mercedes Avarez Ponton and Nobby led almost from start to finish to win the World Endurance Championships in Terengganu, Malaysia, yesterday.

Ponton and Nobby, a 13-year-old French-bred arabian gelding, led the field of 126 in the 160km race all the loops except for the second to win in a time of 8:58:06.

She became the 10th woman to win the top title in the past 12 renewals of the event, since 1986.

Based in Dubai, she told Gulf news: "If I am standing here as the world endurance champion it is only because of the support of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai."

"He gave us everything. We owe everything we have or done in horses to him. This victory is his," she said. She first went to Dubai to work seven years ago.

In the silver medal position was Argentina's Augustin Vita riding Baraka Ibn Al Tamah in 9:07:55, and the bronze was won by UAE rider Sultan Ahmed Sultan Bin Sulayem, on Cal Ramon, in a time of 9:19:31.

The UAE team of Sh Mayed Bin Mohammed Al Maktoum (4th) Mohammed Ahmad Ali Subose (5th) Mubarak Khalifa Bin Shafya (6th) and Abdulla Thani Bin Huzaim (7th) also led from start to finish. They were unchallenged as they finished (27hr 57min 59sec) with almost an hour's advantage over second placed Qatar (28hr 47min17sec) who were two hours ahead of Bahrain (30hr 54min 22sec) which made a clean sweep for the Middle East in the Team Medals. There was disappointment for the home side, when their entire team was eliminated for a variety of reasons.

The best Australasian riders home were Penny Toft, riding the anglo-arab gelding Don, and Kristie McGaffin and Tierview Maverick. The Australians finished in 18th (10:17:44) and 19th (10:17:45) place, nearly 90 minutes behind the leader.

New Zealand's Andrea Smith and the anglo gelding Sierra Nevada were 31st, in 11:46:42 nearly three hours behind the winner.

The final rider home was Australia's Susanne Thumer, who finished the event four hours and 21 minutes after the winner, riding Galib.

The course was basically flat over sandy or fine quarry dust tracks. An enormous amount of work had been done on the surface since last November to eliminate the very boggy areas and provide a sound footing throughout. In addition 1200 LED lights, the same colour as the route, were used at night. The riders also wore these colour coded LED lights to assist the check points on course.

There was only one crew point on each loop but there were manned water points every 3.5km that offered iced-water for cooling, plus drinking water for horse and rider.

There was a heavy thunderstorm about halfway through the race, and conditions took a huge toll on the field, with only 48 completing. More than half of the 78 horses who did not finish were vetted out through lameness.

At the 2006 trial event an above average completion rate was noted.

Among those who failed to finish were former world number one Datuk Kamaruddin Abdul Ghani, and the Australians Brook and George Sample.

The US team also had some bad luck. Team member John Crandell riding Saba Shams, was eliminated at Gate Two for lameness. Cheryl Dell, riding one of the highest rated horses, Reason To Believe, was stricken with a debilitating illness and had to withdraw at the same gate.

The heavy rain storm caused flooding on the trail, but it was the bolt of lightning that ended US hopes. When lightning struck a tree as Jan Worthington and Golden Lightning, and Meg Sleeper on Syrocco Reveille travelled through the water on the trail, the horses received the shock. The horses were flipped end over end, dumping riders and gear. Fortunately, no-one was badly hurt at the time, but the scrapes and bruises on the horses took their toll over the remaining 70 miles, and both horses were eventually eliminated for lameness.

Kathy Brunjes riding Theatric was the first member of the United States team to finish (in 24th position) while Valerie Kanavy riding Flash Flame came in shortly after her in 25th place.

The opening ceremony took place in the newly constructed Sultan Mizan Zainal Abidin Stadium were the King of Malaysia, Yand di-Pertuan Agong Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin officially opened the event. The 48,000 enthusiastic spectators watched the teams parade before a spectacular light and sound show, fireworks, and a bareback riding performance by Lorenzo from France. The enthusiasm of the local population continued as 10,000 spectators watched the start at 5.30pm the next day.

The tab for two-way air freight for horses to and from Malaysia was picked up by the event's organising committee, as well as return tickets for riders and two grooms per horse, a chef d'equipe and a veterinarian per country. Accommodation, meals and transportation for all team officials, riders and grooms was also picked up by the committee.

The event offered a $US100,000 prize purse for the individual competition, and $US80,000 for the teams. The best conditioned horse will receive a $US20,000 prize, and all riders who completed were to receive a prize.

Today's prize giving ceremony - starting at 10am local time - is followed by a gala dinner tonight.

The event marked the first time a Far East country has hosted a senior FEI World Endurance Championship. It was also the first to be held in a tropical climate - and during the hours of darkness.

• There is a new "godfather" of endurance. The title of "Godfather of World Endurance Horse Race" has been bestowed upon Dubai ruler HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, by the King of Malaysia, Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin ibni al-Marhum Sultan Mahmud. The title was granted by the King of Malaysia on behalf of all competitors in the competition, in recognition of Sheikh Mohammed's great contributions and support for world endurance horse racing.

Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum received the award on behalf of his father from Sultan Mohammed, the brother of the Malaysian King.



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