The FEI World Endurance Championships for Young Horses 2014, held in Slovakia for the first time, boasted one of the highest completion rates for a seven-year-old horse Endurance competition on a day of extraordinary sport.
From a total of 44 combinations, 20 successfully finished the challenging ride, with the UAE’s Mansour Saeed Mohd Al Faresi securing gold with Tiswan Fageole, completing the course in a time of 05:47:29. French riders filled second, third and fourth places.
Breaking with tradition, this event saw a change from the unusual format, with a linear route for three legs and then two final loops on the 120-kilometre track, which included steep, stony going over the initial stages and fast straights in the closing stages.
Athletes from 15 nations – Argentina, Austria, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Spain, Estonia, France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Sweden and the UAE – crossed the start line at 08.00 on Saturday morning.
The horses had been stabled in the small town of Pezinok, nestled in the foothills of the Little Carpathians mountain nature reserve. This stunning backdrop was to provide the tough and tricky going of the 27-kilometre first loop. Towards the end of this loop horses and riders had a descent of around 500 metres in the space of just a couple of kilometres, dropping them straight into the first vet gate. Nearly all the horses arrived together at this control and the vast majority of them had vetted in within 15 minutes.
The steep terrain of the initial loop was in stark contrast to the rest of the track, which featured endless flat going alongside the River Danube. The second loop was the shortest (21 kilometres) and saw horses and riders make their way down to the second Vet Gate located just on the outskirts of the industrial heartland of the Slovakian capital, Bratislava. Whilst this loop saw the field spread out a little, the competition was still tight with many combinations in contention. Two nations dominated however, with the UAE and France holding nine of the top 10 positions.
The third loop brought the linear section of the ride to a close at the Elements Resort venue in Samorin, located around 15 kilometres southeast of Bratislava. This purpose-built equestrian facility acted as the static base for Vet Gates 3 and 4 and the Finish. The venue stretches out across nearly 100 hectares and is in the finishing stages of becoming one of the largest sporting facilities in Europe. Upon arrival at Vet Gate 3, both crews and officials were able to relax a little, knowing the logistical challenges of handling such a route had slightly lessened.
At the end of the third loop, the horse and rider combinations had completed a total of 73 kilometres and, whilst the field had started to spread out, it remained both the UAE and France who dominated the top 10.
Mansour Saeed Al Faresi (UAE) and Tiswan Fageole held strong out in front, with a 16-second advantage heading out on to the penultimate loop, but with seven horses within three minutes of the leaders, it was far from over. Jean Philippe Frances (FRA) was in fourth place and his grey gelding Tinka La Majorie was looking strong.
The fourth loop of 25 kilometres was to prove influential in the final standings and saw the highest percentage of non-completions from the relatively small start list. The field had also spread out dramatically and now only three horses remained within touching distance. Al Faresi (UAE) had dropped to second position some two minutes behind compatriot Sheikh Hamed Dalmook Al Maktoum aboard Normandy, who was competing in his first European FEI event. A further 20 seconds behind was Jean Philippe Frances (FRA) with Tinka La Majorie, who had a considerable four-minute advantage over fourth placed Aurelie Cambe (FRA) with Tismael de Vayrols.
The finish asked quite a question of these young horses as, upon arrival at the venue, they had to make just over one complete circuit of the brand new race track before re-crossing the finish line for the final time. Despite the challenge, the horses looked in great shape and willingly made that extra effort for their riders, resulting in a great spectacle for the viewing public.
First on to the race track was Al Maktoum (UAE) and, with a comfortable lead over the next horse, he was able to just take a steady lap of the track and ease his horse home. Al Faresi (UAE) crossed the line second followed by Frances (FRA). But this was not to be the final line-up as Al Maktoum’s horse Normandy was vetted out lame at the final vetting, leaving the gold medal around the neck of his compatriot Al Faresi (UAE) who had led for so much of the day. Frances (FRA) secured silver ahead of teammate Aurelie Cambe (FRA) who took bronze.
It was a 1-2 for French breeding at the 2014 edition of this Young Horse Championship with both first and second placed horses being by the great stallion Naswan. The winning horse Tiswan Fageole completed his first CEI1* in November 2013 and has subsequently completed a further two events, most recently finishing second in the CEIJY1* at Uddel (NED) with Al Faresi.
The top six horses took part in the medal ceremony and were a credit to their riders, trainers and crew. All of the horses looked fresh and well and it was hard to believe the distance they had covered earlier in the day. But it was to be sixth placed Tahar du Barthas who stole the show. After putting in the fastest final loop of the day, this seven-year-old stallion took the highly sought after Best Condition prize. Gaining seven places on the last loop, the grey horse looked in incredible form as he was trotted out to enthusiastic applause from the appreciative crowd, bringing to a close the 2014 edition of the FEI World Endurance Championships for Young Horses.
Mansour Saeed Mohd Al Faresi (UAE) with Tiswan Fageole (Naswan x Fatale de Biar), 05:47:29 /20.893kph
Jean Philippe Frances (FRA) with Tinka La Majorie (Naswan x Tinga), 05:50:31/20.712kph
Aurelie Cambe (FRA) with Tismael De Vayrols (Ismael D’Aubanel x Island Salamanda), 05:54:40 /20.470kph
Best Conditioned Horse:
Tahar du Barthas (Djin Lotois x Kamchatka) ridden by Vincent Gaudriot (FRA), 06:03:34 / 19.969kph