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Endurance.Net Home Enduance.Net: 2008 Al Maktoum Challenge

Dubai - Arrivals

The energy in the UAE is unlike anyplace else. As I got off the plane, through customs, baggage claim, arrival area, lobby - the noise and energy level grew stronger. The duty free shops were packed, the arrival hall was crammed with people of all colors speaking all sorts of languages. And it was 1AM!

I flew into Abu Dhabi, which in the past has felt much more relaxed than Dubai - but I think it has caught the growth fever as well by now. This trip was a bit spontaneous. I was planning on coming to UAE in January, but not this early. When I got confirmation that HM Tuanku Mizan would be coming to ride in the Al Maktoum cup, I got on the phone and after several hours was able to change my original flight so that I could fly out earlier, and would be leaving within the next 12 hours! I spent most of the night packing (as well as unpacking from the previous trip) and then John drove me to the airport to catch a 6am flight out of Phoenix, to catch a 1pm flight out of Seattle, and after too many hours to count, here I am!

I was able to meet up with the 'advance' group from Malaysia this morning (Che Mat Din bin Ismail, Dr. Sri Kan and Halim) and go out with them to take a first look at the horse that HM would ride, and at an additional horse for Halim, the young rider from the Royal Terengganu Endurance Stable (RTES) that would accompany him. Sue Sidebottom (Dubai Equestrian Club) escorted us out to Emirates Endurance Stable. This stable is managed by Jaume Punti, and is one of several owned by Sh. Mohamed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. I had spent an afternoon at the stable last year ( http://www.endurance.net/international/uae/juma/ ) and was incredibly impressed by the professionalism of Juma's team. All of the riders and trainers and veterinarians speak Spanish (from Spain, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile...) and they all seem very happy to be there - working very hard, and enjoying the satisfaction of a well run stable. And my impression this time was just the same - what a great group.

Juma brought out the horses for Dr. Sri Kan and Che Din to take a look at. Two beautiful and very fit horses. HM Tuanku would be riding Ibrahim Pascha Larzac, and Halim would be on Ismayla d'Escaline. Juma presented both horses, and everybody was very satisfied. They saddled them up for Halim to take out on the track and try - and everybody was even more satisfied. HM's horse Ibrahim is the kind of horse that just does his job, easy ride, easy mind, smooth, but very fit and strong - he looked perfect. Ismayla appeared to have a little more challenge to him, but Halim still had a huge grin on his face as he rode him around the track. Good to go.

It was fun seeing familiar faces too. Analia Mendez from Argentina, Pio Olascoaga from Uruguay - all the fit, young, energetic spanish speaking group from Juma's Team. They would all be at the race - some riding, the rest crewing. Juma will be riding also, but his wife Maria Alvarez Ponton (rider, trainer, veterinarian) would not - and she was not very happy about it. She broke her arm in a fall at a previous race and has another month to go before she can ride, and she's not in shape to be crewing much either. She's hoping to ride Presidents Cup though in 6 weeks time. There are only 2 160km races in UAE - this new one (Al Maktoum Cup) and the traditional President's Cup. Riders are now looking at both of these events as qualifying rides for the 2008 WEC. Since the FEI is requiring 2 qualifying rides for each horse/rider team, and one within 12 months, everybody is having to change their plans and routines. They will now be looking at both of these races as qualifying events (must finish!) instead of as the ultimate (race) event.

I'm staying at a hotel in Dubai for now. I might move out to Bab Al Shams tomorrow if there is an extra room, but either way I'm just very happy to be here at all! The Bab Al Shams Hotel is probably one of the most beautiful - interesting - hotels I've ever seen (with the possible exception of Casa Pueblo in Punte del Este, Uruguay). It is located near the Emirates International Endurance City - out in the middle of the 'empty quarter' - the vast desert of the gulf peninsula, an unlikely place for an extraordinary hotel. It was built as a desert resort get-away hotel, and to house guests and officials that come to the rides at Emirates International Endurance City. The literal translation of Bab Al Shams is ?Gateway to the Sun?. Traditional Arabian architecture, sand colored walls, low ceilings and museum quality arabic art, floor cushions, dark adobe hallways, hidden roof top rooms and balconies for smoking the hookah pipe under the Arabian stars... it really is a place of exceptional beauty. The resort was opened in 2004 in time for the 2004/2005 World Endurance Championship (http://www.endurance.net/2004wec/info.html ).

And the Endurance City is incredible in and of itself. It was the first of it's kind - a massive complex for the sole purpose of hosting Endurance events - and it is still the model venue. In 1998 UAE (Dubai) hosted the World Championship - and the Endurance City was constructed for this event. It was the 'out vet check' for the event. The race started in Gantoot (polo club) and riders crossed the desert to arrive at the Endurance City for all of the vet checks and the finish. (today this area is all built up - shops and housing developments where the original trail used to go). Since '98 the venue has been expanded and perfected. The landscaping is mature now - grass trotting lanes, palms, grasses, small gardens, the sparking lights that are so typical of the desert resorts - it is a place of beauty now as well as an Endurance venue.

On the drive back into Dubai (Bab Al Shams and the Endurance City are a 45 minute drive from the city) I was totally amazed by how much the landscape has changed in the past 10 years. Construction everywhere! I heard a statistic that 1/3 of the world's cranes are in UAE - an incredible growth rate, new buildings, resorts, homes, roads, a Dubai to Abu Dhabi above ground rail system, the world's tallest building, the worlds biggest shopping mall. My driver, a middle aged man from India, said 'yes in Dubai is everything biggest'. He seemed very proud of it.

Tomorrow I'll head back out to the venue - trotting of horses, checking in, all that stuff. The foreign riders have been here for several weeks already but I haven't seen any of them yet. I caught a glimpse of a few horses out on the course as we drove by, and saw Meg Wade and Chris Gates driving into Emirates Stable just as we were leaving... but that's about it. Tomorrow will be fun - the chance to see a lot of the same faces, many of them were at Sultans Cup in Malaysia - many have ridden here in UAE before.

And the King of Malaysia will be here, riding a horse owned by Sheikh Mohamed - ruler of Dubai, a very big deal. The sport of Endurance riding, a conduit for International relations... what other sport is like this? Kings and Sheikhs and Princes... and grooms and gauchos and 'regular' folk. Side by side, stride by stride...

later -