Terengganu, Malaysia: "If I am standing here as the world endurance champion it is only because of the support of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai," said the Dubai-based Maria Alvarez Ponton after making it almost a start-to-finish victory in the 160-km FEI World Endurance Championship here on Saturday.
"He gave us everything. We owe everything we have or done in horses to him. This victory is his," said Maria, who first came to Dubai to work as a stable rider seven years ago.
She met Jaume Punti Dachs, who was a trainer for Shaikh Mohammad's horses and after marriage the two created a record by becoming the first husband-wife pair to win a silver and bronze medal in the European Championship.
"Shaikh Mohammad allowed us to ride in competitions and that has helped. He has always been supportive of us and this win is also due to the experience of riding with the best UAE riders during the season," she said.
Riding her favourite horse Nobby, Maria completed the 160-km ride in 8 hours 48 minutes and 06 seconds and said her horse was a world champion.
"I have no words to describe him. He is the best in the world," said the new champion, adding that she felt after her husband Jaume pulled out as his horse Elvis Hab was lame.
"We had ridden together and won the European medals and the two horses train together. So I though Nobby would be affected by Elvis Hab's absence but he showed what a champ he is," said Maria, who led in all the stages and was second in the second stage.
Jaume, apart from being a top rider and trainer, is reputed to be one of the best in crewing but Maria said she preferred him riding alongside rather than crewing for her like he did on Saturday. "Jaume himself would have won as Elvis Hab is also a great horse," she said.
The champion, however, said she has no plans to celebrate as she and the team would have to return to Dubai for the first open ride of the season on November 15.
If Maria's win made it another triumph for the women (only two men have won in the last 12 editions), Argentina's 21-year-old Vita Augustin scored South America's first ever medal in the championship with his second-place finish.
Riding Baraka Ibn Al Tamah, Vita stayed in the top five since the start and gave the South Americans much to cheers after the outbreak of glandis in Brazil had affected quite a few riders their place in the starting line-up.
Sultan Bin Sulayem gave UAE the bronze followed by the four UAE team riders Shaikh Mayed Bin Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Mohammad Ahmad Ali Subose , Mubarak Khalifa Bin Shafya and Abdullah Thani Bin Huzaim.