When Europe is making use of its winter break in the endurance season, an endurance fever overtakes the Arabian Peninsula.
In countries such as the United Arab Emirates or Bahrain, an international competition which gathers contestants from not only that region, takes place nearly every week. Endurance in those countries is a very popular sport regarded with high esteem. There this discipline is constantly evolving: new facilities organizing events are being established, the prize money is increasing, the contender lists are becoming longer and longer. The competitions are held on flat, rather easy desert terrain, which enables the courses to be conquered at great speed. Every now and then a new record is set over particular distances, „galloped” at a speed exceeding 25 km/h.
What’s interesting, the horse to whom the record over a distance of 160 km belonged to for a long time was the mare RO Fabiola, whose pedigree was saturated with Polish ancestors. In 2005 this mare won the prestigious President’s Cup in a (then) record time of 7 hours and 2 minutes (with speed just above 22 km/h). In 2004 her half-brother, RO Super, triumphed in the same competition, while RO Fabiola herself was third. Both horses are the descendants of the Michałów bred stallion Wagram 1998 (Tallin – Wendeta by Palas), who was sold to Argentina, where he is used at the Haras Los Estribos stud. The progeny of Wagram is practically the only example of such fresh trace of Polish blood in the pedigrees of the best endurance horses during the last years. Unfortunately direct progeny of horses bred in Poland among the horses placing at the top positions at the most important events in the Middle East cannot be found – it is even hard to find Polish ancestors in the pedigrees of horses at further positions or even in those simply entered. At the events held in the countries of the Arabian Peninsula mainly horses bred in France, Argentina and Urugway compete (and win).
The history of starts of Polish contestants at events organized in the Middle East is rather humble. Our team competed at the World Championships organized in Dubai in 1998 (Krystyna Romszycka atop Elekt placed 52nd and Małgorzata Kruk atop Elam Mokate placed last – 78th). At the World Championships in Dubai in 2005 competed four Polish pairs (Tomasz Tura – Bohun, Marcin Tobiasz – Ester oo, Maria Wągrowska – Barbakan oo and Marek Zając – Wiatrak oo), but none completed the course.
Decisively the most frequent guest at the events held in that region is veterinarian Piotr Szpotański, who is regularly invited to Dubai as a member of the Veterinary Commission.
The 2007/2008 season in the Middle East began with the Souroh College competition in November, won by Thani Mohammad Al Muhairi atop the 8 year old part bred gelding Royal Rebellion, by the Arabian stallion Idris 1978 (Sadi – Dargement by Dargee), bred in the UK.
Out of the events held so far the most important can be considered those under the name of Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Endurance Cup 2008, which took place on January 12th on the premises of the Dubai International Endurance City (UAE). They were the highest subsidized event in the history of endurance rides: 277,000 euro was divided among the 25 best contestants of the event, whose title sponsor was Omega, while the winner grabbed 46,000 euro. Beside prize money the first four contestants also received off-road cars.
Chief contestants from all across the world came to the event – at the invitation (and expense) of the organizers. Participants of the event included: Australian Meg Wade, German Sabrina Arnold (German Championships 2007 bronze medalist), Italian Fausto Fiorucci (European Champion 2001, World Reserve Champion 1998), French Jean Philippe Frances (European Champion 2007) and Spanish Jaume “Juma” Punti Dachs (European Reserve Champion 2007), who is also the trainer of horses belonging to Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and runs a training stable in Dubai. Maria Alvarez Ponton, the star of the previous endurance season, privately Juma’s wife, unfortunately could not compete due to an injury. The line up at the start also saw Tuanku Mizan Zainal Abidin, the king of Malaysia – where the next year’s Championships will be held.
The sport rivalry was led by the representatives of the hosts. Horses which arrived from Europe shortly prior to the start, trained in totally different conditions and climate, simply had no chance against the local steeds.
The contest was won by 22 year old Omair Husain Al Bloushi (UAE) atop the 11 year old pure bred Arabian gelding Charlandre El Sharif. They conquered the 160 km route at a speed of 24,71 km/h, reaching a speed of 30,29 km/h on the final lap (19 km). This pair’s result is a new world record over this distance, besting the previous one by more than 13 minutes (it belonged to the pair Sheikh Khaled Bin Sultan Al Nahyan and gelding ZT Faraventure: 6:41:33). The winning pair is also the holder of the record over 100 km.
Second came Ali Khalfan Al Jahouri atop the 8 year old mare Leblond (with a speed of 23,32 km/h).
Finishing the contest at the third spot was Mohd Rashed Saeed Al Subosi atop the 14 year old gelding Genio II (22,07 km/h). Genio II is a French part bred by the Arabian stallion Jokua 1980 (Negus II – Nundina III by Saludo).
The best European contestant turned out to be the French Laurent Mosti (9th place) atop the pure bred Arabian mare Khandela des Vialette 1999 (Regal de Khan – Habdurella by Habdur). This pair averaged a speed of 20,20 km/h.
The Spanish Jaume Punti Dachs was 12th, also atop a pure bred mare – Zannarah Pashina, born in 1996. The contest was completed by 33 pairs, while 74 were eliminated.
The next prestigious event – the President’s Cup 2008 – where we can expect a strong cast of serious contenders and perhaps another speed record, will be held on February 16th.