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President's Cup Vet-In Day

Friday February 13 2009

Some of us seem to be sleeping in shifts: I got to bed at midnight, journalists Cidinha Franzao and Paula Nascimento got to bed at 3 AM, I woke at 4 AM, they got up at 6 AM. The reason I was up at 4 was not because my job started this early, but because my next door neighbor came strolling and crooning down the hall at that time, slammed his door, and continued singing. I didn't dare put in my earplugs, or I'd miss my alarm clock. Well, at least it wasn't a bad voice...

I joined the Americans for the breakfast buffet at the Mafraq (salad, anyone?), then followed them on the 30-minute drive to the ride venue. The weather was clearing, so this time I could see landmarks for driving - I THINK I've got all the turns and roundabouts right now to make it there on my own. Although driving back is a different matter.

Some of the foreign entrants were exercising their horses, having emerged from their quarantine barns, either handwalking or out riding. We just saw a couple of other horses out on the sand course, always followed by a vehicle or two. The two American riders, John Crandell and Jan Worthington, took their horses Melika (LR Jasuur Melika) and Leon (Golden Lightning) out for an hour ride. Lisa Green practiced handing water bottles off to both of them as they trotted past her. I got out to take pictures at one spot, and Leon came up and sniffed my pockets, because he thought I might have some carrots in there.

I was going to follow the Americans back to the hotel, since it is a different route, but I wandered off taking pictures, and when I noticed they were gone, their car was a little dot on the horizon. Oh no! I jumped in my car and raced after them, pegging the needle in the red zone. I'd almost caught up with them when I took one roundabout too soon, and I saw them getting on the highway I was just passing. Darn! Now I was on my own. I did make it back with no more wrong turns though... I think I had it down now.

My timing was great - I was able to grab lunch at the hotel buffet, and the rental car people happened to find me to give me a 4-wheel drive truck. I hadn't expected it, and anyway I hadn't intended to drive the course by myself tomorrow (since I'd heard about all the crazy driving, I preferred to ride along with someone, and that way I could shoot photos too.) But, since my car was about out of gas, and getting to a service station was not at all convenient or straightforward, and I didn't have any cash to pay for gas anyway, I traded for the truck. Which would turn out to be an adventitious adventure.

(By the way, when you need cash from a cash machine in the UAE, you know the most obvious place you go? A hospital lobby, of course.)

I had lunch with the Aussies, and saw the Portuguese riders. I had met Antonio and his chestnut stallion Trovador Da Oliveirinha at last year's Portuguese championships. Antonio rode him there, but his friend Rui Pereira would be riding him here in the President's Cup. Rui had been invited to ride, but his own horse, who'd completed some dozen 120 km and 160 km rides without a vet-out, was in need of some rest. Antonio offered his stallion to ride.

Aussie Penny Toft, who sometimes still gets nervous at the start of rides, even though she's been doing them forever, asked Rui if he ever got nervous. "No. The alarm goes off, I get up, I brush my teeth, I go saddle the horse, I get in the saddle, and Yella Yella we go!"

As we talked horses and Presidents Cup and partying, it came to light that Antonio had been the singing alarm clock this morning... "the ghost of Frank Sinatra!" he declared. I did say he had a good voice. : )

Back at the Emirates International Endurance Village (I did not get lost driving there), vet inspections began for the foreign horses at 2 PM. It's a green spot in the desert, built up on a natural row of sand hills: several separate quarantine barns for the foreign horses, some little villas for VIPs, some permanent stables, then the venue base with the trotting lanes, vetting area, and crewing area, all on perfectly manicured and tended green grass and surrounded by trees.

You get a great view of the grounds, and the surrounding miles of desert (if it's a clear day) from the sand mountain, which is a source of questions and amusement by those of us not in the know. It started growing about 8 years ago, and was one sand pile which grew into a mountain - trucks of sand brought load by load from dunes in a dry lake bed down the road (that sand has more mineral content and packs down better, otherwise the trucks would never make it up the road). A few years ago, another sand pile was started next to it, and eventually grew into a mountain, and it looks like ultimately the two will be joined to make one Really Big Sand Mountain. Nobody really knows why, or in what direction it's going; the little trucks just keep crawling up the mountain and dumping more sand loads, year after year, and the mountain keeps growing, and the returning endurance riders see a little more progress every year.

While the national horse and rider starting list had not been released yet, the starting list for the invited foreign riders had changed a bit from what was originally posted. A Jordanian rider, Farah Ahmed Abu Nameh, would be riding Zarazeen. Melanie Arnold was unable to come with her horse due to some paperwork snafu, and instead, sisters Rebecca and Stephanie were here and would be riding local horses. Rebecca would be riding a New Zealand horse Dahman Van Zant, now from Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club stables - a horse I rode when I visited New Zealand. Stephanie would ride Box Hill Tonderburine from Al Reef Stables. A number of other foreign riders (a few of them based here) from Spain, Uruguay, France, the Netherlands, Saudi Arabia, and Great Britain, would be riding national horses from various stables.

The starting list was cut from the expected 100+ riders, because the new FEI regulations (as of January 1st), requiring horses to qualify for 160 *** rides by working their way up from the 1* and 2** rides, left a good number of horses not qualified for this 3*** ride. A new stricter FEI dress code was also put into rules in January, but maybe it will take a while for those rules to be enforced.

The national horses had just started moving onto the grounds well after noon; they started their inspections at 3:30.

The crewing areas were being set up with barrels and buckets and bath tubs of water; the rest areas were being stocked with blankets and leg bandages, hay and oats and grains.

In the evening, it was back to the Mafraq Hotel for dinner and socializing, and another late night (as usual), and another early-set alarm (as usual), for the morning 6 AM start.


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