A total of 87 combinations, including some of the world's top Endurance talent, descended on the Most Hippodrome in the Czech Republic at the weekend to tackle a track designed to test the very best for the FEI Open European Endurance Championships.
The 160km track was laid out across 6 loops, with the first travelling east from the venue covering predominantly agricultural land and tracks, and the second 25km loop covering similar ground. The third loop was the longest of all at 36km and considered the toughest – heading away from the venue in a lollipop, it had many more changes in altitude. The fourth loop was a repeat of loop 1, with loops 5 and 6 – both 19kms long – encompassing the area directly around the hippodrome.
The startlist made for some great reading, with the top five athletes in the FEI Endurance World Rankings competing in the Open Category. Notably absent from the field of starters were Endurance legends Maria Alvarez Ponton (ESP) and Nobby – Maria gave birth to Anna just a few weeks ago.
At this year’s Championships, France claimed team gold yet again with Spain’s Jaume Punti Dachs remaining on top as European Individual with Quran El Ulm, and the UAE’s Sheikh Rashid Dalmook al Maktoum taking Open European Individual gold with Yamamah.
The trial run for these Championships took place in September last year and was won at 19.7kph by the UAE, with Bahrain taking the 2nd spot. The results at the first vet gate indicated that this year’s Open Championships could be a repeat performance with the UAE holding the top 3 places, closely followed by Bahrain and Oman and European nations Spain, France and Great Britain. Vet gate 2 saw little change in the Open standings, but it did see movement in the European category with Spain, Poland and Belgium looking strong in the individual category.
But, in the end and as is so often the case, France was in fine form to take the team title once again with all 5 of their squad in the top fifteen. Their top three results combined gave them a total time of 23:56:05, nearly two hours ahead of second-placed Spain which finished 2 hours ahead of Italy in bronze. The podium line-up remained the same for the Open Category Team Championships.
This was the first senior Championships to see the new formula put into practice that had worked so well at the Junior and Young Rider Championships earlier this year in Tarbes (FRA). Each nation enters five combinations rather than the traditional six, but there is no longer any requirement to declare your team of four plus two individuals. All five members of the squad can be considered and it is the best three scores to count – but of course only these 3 combinations receive a medal.
The competition proved to be a very technical one with a high number of horses being judged not fit to continue as the stages unravelled. In the run up to the event, the weather had been cold and damp resulting in a wet, slippery track. However, the weather turned on the day of the competition itself and was warm and humid. It was certainly a real test of endurance for all combinations and tactical, careful riding was the requirement for the day.
Punti Dachs for Spain continued his dominance in the individual European category, and at the final vet gate had an 8-minute advantage over Championships veteran Jean Philippe Frances (FRA), who finished on silver. The final podium spot went to Kamilla Kart (POL), who pipped Philippe Tomas (FRA) to the finish line by just 2 seconds. This was Kart’s second 160km finish with the talented Raila des Sables this year.
Punti Dachs’ 9-year-old stallion Quran El Ulm is an ever-consistent performer, completing every international competition started. It was therefore the icing on the cake when they cruised to victory in the Individual European Championships at 20.88kph. Their incredible vet gate presentation times averaged at just 1.08 minutes and appeared to give them the edge over their remaining competition. Jean Philippe Frances’ grey gelding Qrafik la Majorie is also incredibly dependable – the talented pair finished 13th in the Longines FEI World Endurance Championships in Euston Park (GBR) last year, and Most was Frances’ 10th major Championships and his 2nd podium finish.
In the Individual Open category, Sheikh Rashid Dalmook al Maktoum (UAE) with the 14-year-old mare Yamamah (Kurrajong Concorde) – who placed second in the Longines FEI World Endurance Championships last year – took gold after a strong final loop of 26.8kph, crossing the finish line with a 17-minute lead. Ali Khalfan al Jahouri (UAE), who won the Open European title in 2011, finished with silver on the 9-year-old bay gelding Farak. HH Sheikh Nasser bin Hamad al Khalifa (BRN), who finished second in the Championships trial event last year, was just 8 seconds behind and took bronze with Dhab, who was originally bred in the Czech Republic – a rather apt homecoming for this talented young gelding.
European and Open European Team
Gold: France – 23:56:05 (Jean Philippe Frances/Qrafik Al Majorie, Philippe Tomas/Quotien Persky, Melody Theolissat/Azelle de Jalima); Silver: Spain – 25:45:02 (Jaume Punti Dachs/Quran El Ulm, Laia Muixi Crusellas/Flying Tornade, Javier Cervera Sanchez-Arnedo/Strawblade); Bronze: Italy – 27 :45 :53 (Daniele Serioli/Pika de Cardonne, Melania Serioli/Cala Gonona, Carlo di Battista/Fonni).
Gold: Jaume Punti Dachs (ESP) with Quran El Ulm (07:42:40 – 20.88kph); Silver: Jean Philippe Frances (FRA) with Qrafil Al Majorie (07:45:25 – 20.76kph); Bronze: Kamilla Kart (POL) with Raila des Sables (07:58:24 – 20.19kph).
Open European Individual
Gold: Sh. Rashid Dalmook al Maktoum (UAE) with Yamamah (07:24:44 – 21.72kph); Silver: Ali Khalfan al Jahouri (UAE) with Farak (07:42:19 – 20.90kph); Bronze: HH Sh. Nasser bin Hamad al Khalifa (BRN) with Dhab (07:42:27 – 20.89kph).