Afra Khalifa Al Suwaidi Image Credit: ABDUL RAHMAN/Gulf News Archives

Samorin, Slovakia: With success having eluded him in nine years of riding, Mansour Saeed Al Faresi was probably one of the unlikely candidates to excel in the FEI World Endurance Championships for Young Horses 2014 at Samorin, Slovakia, on Saturday.

The advice of His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai helped him brush aside his past disappointment and claim victory for the UAE on a day that ended in heartache for his teammate Shaikh Hamed Dalmouk Al Maktoum.

Shaikh Hamed was the first rider to cross the finish line at the end of the 120km CEI 4* ride, but his horse, Normandy, went lame and was cruelly disqualified in the final VET gate.

Al Faresi, who finished the ride a close second, was awarded victory which he dedicated to The President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and people of UAE.

A 20-year-old law student from Al Ain, Al Faresi completed the challenging course in a time of five hours, 47 minutes and 29 seconds as French riders filled the second, third and fourth places.

The UAE endurance team had another reason to be happy as Afra Khalifa Al Suwaidi made history when she secured a praiseworthy fifth place among a strong field of 43 riders representing 15 countries. The talented rider from Al Ain also wrote a new chapter by becoming the first Emirati lady rider to compete in a World Championship event.

Al Suwaidi, who won the HH Shaikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Flat Racing Festival’s Her Highness Shaikha Fatima Cup for ladies in Verona, Italy in July, completed the course aboard the mare Ainhoa Tidjour in a time of 05:58:46s.

“I have never won or competed in anything as big as this event,” said Al Faresi. “This is the happiest moment of my life.

“It was very disappointing that Shaikh Hamed Dalmouk’s horse did not pass the final VET gate, but I’m still proud to have secured victory for the UAE. I’ve waited a long time for this and it is a fantastic feeling to win the first ever ride in Slovakia. I have been competing in many big rides but I have not been lucky until now.”

Revealing the tactics that he and Shaikh Hamed brought into play, Al Feresi said: “Shaikh Mohammad advised us to go into the lead earlier in order to make the other riders push their horses in an attempt to keep pace with us,” he said.

“His Highness also told us to settle out horses during the middle loops so as to conserve their energy for the final loop where we stepped up the pace and pulled away to win comfortably.”

Al Faresi was also full of praise for World Equestrian Games gold medal winning trainer Esmail Mohammad who had prepared Tiswan Fageole for the ride.

“You can’t win if your horse is not one hundred per cent ready and I think Esmail had the horse in the best possible condition,” he said.

“It was only Tiswan Fageole’s second endurance ride but he behaved like a horse with a lot of experience and ability. I think he will get even better with age and win higher class rides.”

The FEI World Endurance Championships for Young Horses 2014 brought together riders from the United Arab Emirates, Argentina, France, Estonia, Russia, Spain, Portugal, Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic.

Frenchman Jean Philippe Frances (Tinka La Majorie) was promoted to second place following the disqualification of Shaikh Ahmad’s horse, with a time of 05:50.31s, while compatriots Aurelie Cambe (Tismael De Vayrols) took third place in 05:54:40s and Emilie Lambert (Baghdad Font Noire) fourth place in 05:58:45s.

The event also enjoyed a fifty per cent completion with 21 horses checking in at the final VET gate and delighted FEI Endurance Director Ian Williams who described the historic first World Championship event in Slovakia as a ‘big success.’

Lara Sawaya, Executive Director of the HH Shaikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Flat Racing Festival and Chairman of the IFAHR Ladies Committee, thanked Shaikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Presidential Affairs, for his continuous support of endurance.

She also hailed the winner Al Faresi and made special mention of the performance of Al Ain’s lady rider Afra Khalifa Al Suwaidi.

“This was a huge accomplishment for the Emirati ladies team supported by the Shaikh Mansour Festival. Afra did the whole team proud with her excellent efforts and can be considered as a true champion being the only lady from the UAE riding against men and top riders from Europe.”