Riders from 29 countries will be vying for the title of world junior champion on Saturday when the biennial FEI World Endurance Championship takes place at the Emirates International Endurance Village at Al Wathba in Abu Dhabi.
UAE group to ride out with title hopes
Riders from 29 countries will be racing over 120 kilometres of desert terrain Saturday to determine the world junior champion.
The biennial FEI World Endurance Championship for Young Riders and Juniors is being staged in Abu Dhabi for the first time, and home competitors are hoping to clinch the team title and retain the individual gold medal won by a UAE horseman two years ago.
The Emirates International Endurance Village in Al Wathba will see 79 riders, all under the age of 21, start the race over a course featuring rising grounds, downhill runs and sandy underfoot conditions consisting of five loops - 33km, 27km, 24km, 20km and 16km.
The UAE have entered the maximum number of riders - four - led by Sheikh Khalifa bin Mohammed Al Hamed on Ultimo.
He is joined by the Al Marri brothers, Ali Ghanim (who will be aboard Castlebar Tornado) and Khalifa Ghanim (aboard Little Joe Fox), and Mohammed Saeed Al Faresi (riding Fenwick Cadenza).
The UAE has had a lot of success in endurance racing at the international level.
Hussain Ali Al Marzouqi is the reigning world junior champion, winning the gold aboard Sargai in Hungary in 2009.
Ahmed Ali Al Sabri won the European Open junior gold on Alizee de Marjolaine in France last year.
Thaleb Dhaher Al Muhairi, the secretary general of the Emirates Equestrian Federation, said the race is likely to be a very competitive one, and the host team is not expected to have any big advantage over the visiting riders and horses.
"The Emirati riders have prepared well, but I believe so has everyone else in the race," Al Muhairi said.
"Every rider and team has come well prepared for this race, and the world title could turn out to be anybody's guess."
Even so, the testing desert terrain and the 120 kilometre race distance will be taxing for both horses and riders.
"The first three loops are all about preserving the horse when they tackle the difficult part of the course," said Derek Liebenberg, the FEI technical director.
"However, I am aware all those here for this competition have trained in similar conditions in their own countries before heading to Abu Dhabi.
"We have also had no issues with the weather, which has been pretty good so far, and hope it will stay cool on the race day."