A nerve jangling affair is what the HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Endurance Cup has been since its inception in 2008 and after the completion of the 11th edition of one of distance riding’s most prestigious competitions, organisers can proudly proclaim the race is a true test of character of both man and horse. This year’s ride was once again followed closely by the man whose name the race carries and Abdulla Ghanim Al Marri could not have asked for a better reward than the warm greeting and congratulations by the Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Dubai Ruler that followed his third victory in the CEI*** 160km competition.
“Winning this competition is great, but being congratulated by HH Sheikh Mohammed and HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum after the race makes this race truly memorable,” said the F3 Stables’ rider who also won the title successively in 2012 and 2013. Only then Al Marri rode for Nad Al Sheba Stables. This time it was sweeter as it meant victory for F3 Stables patron Sheikh Hamdan, who himself has won the competition twice before consecutively in 2015 and 2016 when riding for MRM. Al Marri has proven himself a top rider in recent years and has had a brilliant UAE season so far with victories in the CEN 120km National Day Cup and the CEI** 120km Jumeirah Endurance Cup.
He also managed a second place in the CEN 120km Al Wathba Challenge in November and the 120km Gamilati Endurance Ride for Mares event a fortnight ago, which also fell under the portfolio of rides that make up the HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Endurance Riding Festival at Dubai International Endurance City last week. Not only that, Al Marri has been hugely successful overseas as well and won the UK edition of the HH Sheikh Mohammed Festival 160km ride in August last year. At the state of the art DIEC last week, Al Marri partnered 10yo chestnut horse Lockelea Starwood Comet during the gruelling ride that had been broken down into five stages of 40km, 35, 35km, 32km and 18km.
The pair had to wait until the very last stage to seal victory and managed to win after recording a time of 6 hours 24 minutes and 10 seconds that was only fractions better than their F3 Stables’ teammates Salim Said Al Owais and Castlebar Cadabra, who when ‘rounded off’ reflected the same time. In third place, a further minute adrift, for M7 Endurance Stables was Salem Hamad Al Kitbi aboard Shahab, while MRM Stables riders Mansour Saeed Al Faresi and Saif Ahmed Al Mazrouei placed fourth and fifth respectively. But the day belonged to Al Marri, who worked way up steadily during the course of the day after finding himself with the 25th best time after the first stage over 40km, where Al Wathba Stables rider Abdulrahman Saeed Al Ghailani led aboard Bint Al Reeh Al Tayiba.
Al Marri was 15th at the end of the second phase over 35km, where the lead passed into the hands of another Al Wathba Stables rider: Ahmed Hasan Al Hammadi, who rode AP De La Muerte. The third phase also over 35km saw M7’s Al Kitbi seize the lead with Al Marri now in seventh. A tweak to his riding speed which saw him ride marginally slower turned out to be a smart move as he saved his horse for the last two stages when due to lower temperatures, he could afford to ride faster. Al Marri’s rise up to third during the fourth stage over 32km was aided by the elimination of a posse of other riders. The gamble had paid off and now within striking distance, Al Marri was free to unleash Lockelea Starwood Comet on the rest of his rivals and the pair zipped to the front in the final 18km loop to finish fractions ahead of teammates Al Owais and Castlebar Cadabra.
Al Marri said: “I am really proud to have won this title for the third time. It’s like I have a close relation with this prestigious trophy. “There was great support from HH Sheikh Mohammed and HH Sheikh Hamdan during the ride and the coach and our entire team and technical staff did a very good job in ensuring this victory for us. “This is a really good horse and he was new to us but he performed well for F3 Stables. He was unlucky in the Endurance World Cup ride last year, but he has proved himself brilliantly here and will definitely do well at the next edition of the World Cup. I am looking to ride him in next month’s 160km HH The President of the United Arab Emirates Endurance Cup in Abu Dhabi.”
F3 Stables patron Sheikh Hamdan added: “This victory is down to the team’s diligence in performing its duties and rooting out previous mistakes. “Our coach Ghanim Al Marri has great experience as do the other training staff at F3 Stables. We are prepared to participate in the HH The President of the United Arab Emirates Endurance Cup in February and the performance of the stable will be even better.” Saeed Al Tayer, Chairman and CEO of Meydan Group, said the competition had moved from strength to strength and become one of the most coveted titles around the world. Nearly 1000 riders participated in rides during the festival this year, with 339 starting the 160km HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Endurance Cup alone.
Al Tayer said: “This was put together brilliantly and the level of competition shows how much this festival has grown since the time it started. Riders from all around the world want to participate in it and the stables fight fiercely and all this has led to very good competition over the years.” Mohammad Essa Al Adhab, the General Manager of Dubai Equestrian Club, echoed similar sentiments saying: “All four rides that were part of the festival were very tough and went down to the wire. It was just amazing competition and that’s what this event stands for; bringing out the excellence in riders and horses in a very fair competition.
“If you look at the quality of riders and horses that participated in it over the two weeks you can see that this ride is not just popular here but is a coveted title to win at a global level. “We have shown now that we are one of the best organisers of large scale endurance meetings and we can put together a competition of any magnitude without any problems. Everyone cooperated well during the rides and this has definitely been a very very successful event from an organisational point of view as well.” That idea would receive a solid backing whenever the FEI decides to review events as present during the ride was Sheikh Khalid bin Abdullah Al Khalifa, who is the First Vice-President of the FEI and gave a two thumbs up for organisers for doing a fantastic job. “I think this is one of the best events I have witnessed both in terms of attracting competition from around the world and organisation.
It was flawless in terms of organisation and that is a great credit to the organisers and this will definitely show well when the FEI take a look back at the efforts of the organising committee in putting together a ride with such a high participation and ensuring it went well smoothly,” said Al Khalifa, who is also the Bahraini Ambassador to the UAE.