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UAE riders clinch team gold

The endurance championship in Malaysia is dominated by competitors from Gulf states.

The UAE endurance riders won a team gold ahead of Qatar and Bahrain and an individual bronze as the Gulf states dominated the 2008 World Endurance Championship in Terengganu, Malaysia. Maria Alvarez Ponton, who trains endurance horses in Dubai with her husband Juma Punti Dachs for Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, won the individual gold for Spain on her Dubai-trained gelding Nobby to retain the crown won by Miguel Villa Ubach in 2006 in Germany.

Augustin Vita of Argentine on Baraka Ibn Tamah and the UAE's Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem on Cal Ramon shared the podium with her after the 160-kilometre race. The UAE riders occupied third to seventh places behind Ponton and Vita. "It is a massive step forward for the region," said Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, who was out of the race after Kaysand Farrazah went lame. He was racing in second behind Ponton at the time. Sheikh Hamdan's chances were dashed when his first choice entry Jazyk, was ruled out when a pre-race veterinary inspection revealed the 11-year-old had a swelling on one eye. As a result, Sheikh Hamdan had to ride the reserve horse Kaysand Farazzah, and decided to opt out of the team event.

"We had a strong chance of winning the team gold and I didn't want to ruin that opportunity," said Sheikh Hamdan. "It is a great feeling to have won the team gold and the individual bronze. "I am also thrilled our brothers from Qatar and Bahrain joined us on the podium to celebrate. It only goes on to show how much progress we have made in such a short period of time." Ponton, the new world champion, paid a tribute to the country she has made her second home. "My own success has been largely because of the encouragement and support we have received from Sheikh Mohammed and his family members. So I am really happy for them and the celebrations."

Ponton, who won the European championship bronze on the same horse last year, had a setback when her husband's mount Elvis Hob was withdrawn because of injury. "This was the first time I have ridden without him in an international competition," said Ponton, who completed the race in 8 hrs 48 min and 06 sec. Qatar were elated with their silver. Bahrain claimed the team silver in last year's European Open.


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