By Duane Fonseca
Salem Hamad Malhoof Al Kitbi led a 1-2 for United Arab Emirates when winning the Longines FEI World Endurance Championship at San Rossore, Pisa, Italy, aboard M7 Endurance Stables owned Haleh.
Al Kitbi completed the CH-M-E 160km ride in a time of 18:29:24, which was a mere second quicker than the time of Emirati countryman Mansour Al Faresi, who placed second on the back of Birmann Aya, owned by MRM Stables.
Finishing a distant third was Chilean rider Bino Viada de Vivero, who rode AS Embrujo in 18:36.26.
Al Kitbi, a rider with massive experience, who won the 120km Private Stables ride at the His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Festival at Dubai International Endurance Centre in April, put his knowledge to good use by staying close to the summit.
Al Kitbi started the ride in third on the back of his 10yo Arabian partner, Haleh, who had won the CEI 2* 122km Euston Endurance Ride in June 2019. Jaafar Merza Abdulnabi Hassan on G-Bangsar Alfouvar, owned by Victorious Stables, set the pace over the first phase spanning 33.7kms. However, the Bahraini failed to hold on to top spot over the 23.7km second phase ceding the advantage to Spain’s Omar Blanco Rodrigo, who would dominate over the next four loops on the back of For Ferro.
Al Kitbi held on to his position over the next phase and started to build from there moving up a spot during the course of the third loop spanning 33.2kms. Al Kitbi managed to cut the deficit with Rodrigo consistently over and was five seconds adrift heading into the final loop over 20km.
And with plenty left in the tank of Haleh, he quite easily took over from Rodrigo, who eventually finished fifth. Abdullah Ghanim Al Marri, of the UAE, riding Ulmeau Du Vrihou owned by F3 Stables, was third after the third phase but was eliminated at the end of the fourth phase after his partner was deemed to have returned from the 25.7km loop with an irregular gait.
Second placed Al Faresi did well to move up all along after starting the ride in 13th at the end of the first loop. He moved to eighth then to seventh and held third over the fourth and fifth loops before another strong finish helped him to within a second of winner Al Kitbi at the finish.
Third placed Chilean De Vivero also worked hard moving from 19th to 17th to 16th and 10th before launching his podium bid from fifth.
A total of 71 rider-horse pairs started the event in light rain that further improved conditions at the scenic track. A total of 47 pairs were eliminated from the event.