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Spain's Ponton guides Noddy to endurance gold

September 27, 2010

Spain's Maria Mercedes Alvarez Ponton and her super-horse, Nobby, wrote their names into the history books of the sport of Endurance today when adding the individual gold medal at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky to their 2008 World Championship and 2009 European Championship titles.

Spain's Maria Mercedes Alvarez Ponton and Nobby on their way to securing individual Endurance gold at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky today. © FEI/Kit Houghton.

Interview with the winner
En español

The hat-trick has never been achieved before, and Nobby's extraordinary recovery-rate proved key to their success once again. But Ponton herself is something of a super-woman. Only seven weeks ago she gave birth to her daughter, Maria, yet she had the stamina, skill, physical fitness and concentration to win the coveted title against the sharpest competition today.

Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) took the silver medal with Ciel Oriental while his son, Sheikh Hamdan Bin Al Maktoum took bronze, and it was no surprise when the UAE claimed the team title, finishing well ahead of the French in silver medal position and Germany in bronze.

Sheikh Mohammed was in the lead at the first vet-gate ahead of Ponton in second, and the eventual winner was still lying in runner-up spot at vet-gate 2. But she established a 12-second advantage at vet-gate 3 and once she got the bit between her teeth she didn't let go. She increased her lead to 33 seconds at vet-gate four but it was on the final loop that she left the rest behind, pushing for home. She really moved on in the closing stages, completing the last loop at an average of 29.44 kilometres per hour and although Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Hamdan were considerably faster, averaging 31.66 kilometres on this part of the course, Ponton's overall average speed won the day.

Back in the field, a battle for fourth place ensued between The USA's Heather Reynolds, riding Ssamiam, and Jean-Philippe Frances riding Hanaba du Bois for France in the closing stages. Reynolds left the final vet-gate in second position behind Ponton, but was overtaken by Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Hamdan and it was the Frenchman and his 2007 European Championship winning horse who finished just outside the medal placings in the final analysis.

The wife will be pleased: second placed rider, Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, husband of FEI leader Princess Haya, riding Churing Kagebee.

A family affair: Dubai Crown Prince Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum riding SAS Alexis finished third behind his father. © FEI/Kit Houghton.

Ponton and Nobby first burst onto the international scene in December 2006 when third in the 120km race in Dubai and they have been a force to be reckoned with ever since. Ponton's husband Jaume Punti-Dachs, who is one of Sheikh Mohammed's leading trainers, is also a highly competitive international competitor so while Maria was waiting for their baby to arrive Jaume kept Nobby in good shape, steering him into fourth in the Dubai CEI 3-Star in April. But today his job was looking after Sheikh Mohammed's horses while his wife and her team ensured Nobby gave of his best. Her win looked like a breeze for Ponton and her little 148cm super-champ, but the winner insisted that while the win felt wonderful, it had been no easy victory.

"There were a lot of good horses and the track was really strong. People said it would be easy because the course was flat but it wasn't flat at all!" she said.

She admitted that securing this title so soon after the birth of her baby was something of a tall order. "I thought it was probably impossible to compete at the Games once I was pregnant. But I was riding him for the first five months and my husband took him over then. I've been back riding for the last couple of weeks," she explained to astonished listeners.

Talking about Nobby she said "he has a huge heart and it responds really well but when he wins a race he doesn't just win it with his heart, he also wins it with his head!" she pointed out. She said that this win was much more difficult than the one she faced when taking the World title in Malaysia two years ago - "I had to fight much harder against almost 20 horses today," she said. "In this sport you have many sad days, then some happy days, but days like today are something very special," she said.

Nobby will now have a two-month break but he won't be turned out in a field because he travels with Ponton wherever she goes and she is now heading back to Dubai where she spends half the year - the other half based in England.

Her next target may be the 2011 European Championships, but for today she was just delighted with her extraordinary horse and happy to return to her baby daughter to tell her the good news.

Those who saw the 34-year-old rider and her incredible 15-year-old horse finishing so fresh and elated today knew they were watching a special moment in the history of any sport - they were simply in a class of their own.

The stats

The winning team from the UAE completed with a combined time of 23:53:36.
The third-placed German team were one of the surprises of the competition.
Japan fielded a team for the first time in these championships, but did not complete.



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