Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum led all the way to win the 160km endurance contest at the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games in France, riding the Australian-bred mare Yamamah in a race where only 22% of starters completed the race.
Just 38 horses from the 174 starters finished. Only three countries had the minimum of three riders in contention by the end of the race.
Twenty horses failed to complete the first loop, which was marred by the death of Costa Rican horse Dorada, who hit a tree in an accident 13.6km into the first loop and about 400m from the first check point.
Dorada’s rider, Claudia Romero Chacon, has undergone surgery for fractures and internal injuries. She is in a serious but stable condition.
Three other riders also sustained injuries, with Uruguay’s Isha Judd suffering a fractured right femur in a fall, Costa Rica’s Alberto Morales Morales, who was taken to hospital for observation after complaining of neck pain having completed the first loop, and New Zealand’s Andrea Smith fell from Glenmore Tariq and broke three ribs on the third loop.
The United Arab Emirate’s Sheikh Hamdan, the Crown Prince of Dubai, and European Champion Yamamah (formerly Kurrajong Concorde) completed the five loops around Sartilly in a total riding time of 8 hours, 8 minutes and 28 seconds. He achieved an average speed of 19.678, way over the minimum average that had been lowered to 14km/h.
He had the finish line all to himself, with second placed Dutch rider Marijke Visser, 21, and Laiza de Jalima in 8:19.07. It is the first endurance medal for The Netherlands. In third was Qatar’s Abdulrahman Saad A.S Al Sulaiteen riding Koheilan Kincso, who came in on 8:56.23.
Ground conditions were described as “improving” after the initial loops, and after the third loop, French rider Jean-Philippe Frances said: “The first two loops were terrible”. Heavy rain had fallen in the Sartilly area before the competition.
Sheikh Hamdan was the only rider from the five riders from the UAE to complete the race, and France was the only country to get five riders through.
The last rider through, Costa Rica’s Rocio Echeverri riding Jamin, finished in 11:08.11.
Team gold to Spain
Over very heavy footing Spain’s team of three won gold after a total riding time of 28:56:02. France rode to silver in 29:08:44, adding to its silver at the 2010 Games. They were 12:42 minutes behind Spain, and overtaking Switzerland on 29:42.54.
Jaume Punti Dachs, 45, endurance trainer for the Newmarket based stable of Sheik Mohammed’s Darley stud, led the Spanish team riders Jordi Arboix Santacreu and Javier Cervera Sanchez-Arnedo. Punti Dachs’s wife Maria Alvarez Ponton could not defend her individual title from Lexington 2010, and retired on the course.
Experienced Jean-Philippe Frances, riding the youngest horse on the French team led the way, from team-mates to Denis Le Guillou and Robin Cornely. Frances rode the course in 8:12:37.
The Swiss team’s bronze is the second team success after silver in Aachen 2006. Claude Nordmann, Chef de Mission for the Swiss Team, gave all the credit to Barbara Lissarrague, finishing fourth individually. “She has done her utmost for the team (with Sonja Fritschi and Andrea Amacher). They all rode together after we had lost the first two riders of five rather early on the course.”
First endurance medal for The Netherlands
Silver medalist Marijke Visser rode Laiza de Jalima to the country’s first endurance medal at a World Games, and the first time the Dutch had fielded a team.
Royal Dutch Equestrian Federation president Theo Ploegmakers said endurance was a minority discipline in The Netherlands. he said the country had invested a lot of time and money in the sport, “taking care of the right promotion for the sport to win over more young riders and making sure they find good trainers and good horses.”
Marijke Visser, a student, won the 2013 Young Riders Endurance title and also rides dressage. Her grey arabian mare, 10-year-old Laiza de Jalima, is owned by Dubai’s Sheikh Abdulla Bin Faisal Bin Saqr Al Qassimi and trained in The Netherlands. To prepare for the Games, the mare was sent to Belgium to train with Emile Docquier.