Flawless and fast, Sharbatly clinches place in World Cup

The Saudi professional qualifies for the FEI World Cup showjumping championship in Germany after victory in Abu Dhabi.

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ABU DHABI // Abdullah Sharbatly of Saudi Arabia clinched the first of two qualification places from the Arab Nations for the FEI World Cup showjumping championship in Germany after back-to-back victories in the UAE round of the World Cup qualifiers.

Sharbatly, the winner in Dubai last week, rode a flawless round on the 14-year-old bay mare Columbia II to triumph in the Abu Dhabi Grand Prix at the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club last night and take an unassailable lead in the World Cup qualifiers.

"The beauty of showjumping is that it's not the best who always win, but the best combination on the night," said the 27-year-old silver medallist at the FEI World Equestrian Games in Kentucky in September.

"There were several good riders and horses and my win doesn't undermine the abilities of all those who competed on the night. Anyone could have won on any given day, but fortunately for me, it was my turn to win again."

Sharbatly clocked 62.1 seconds to pip his Saudi teammate Khaled Abdulaziz al Eid (62.47) on Jalla De Gaverie.

Sheikha Latifa Al Maktoum (65.14) on Kalaska denied the Saudis a clean sweep by claiming third place ahead of Prince Abdullah bin Moteb Al Saud on Mobily Ashkur Allah Obelix, who clocked 61.25 but knocked down an obstacle.

Sheikha Latifa was a member of the UAE's silver medal-winning team at the Asian Games in China in November. Sheikh Rashid Al Maktoum finished 10th and Sheikh Majid Al Qasimi 15th, but Ahmed al Junaibi failed to make the cut of 25.

Sharbatly's victory in the four-star ride in the capital gave him 20 points and a major share of the Dh300,000 prize money. It also took his qualifying points tally to 70, 17 points more than his closest challenger, Yahya Fahmy of Egypt, with one qualifying event left in Sharjah from January 27 to 29.

The Sharjah event, which does not have as many points as the four-star championship in Abu Dhabi, will be the last round of the regional qualifiers after the event in Syria was cancelled.

"I will give it a think-over if I will go to Sharjah, now that I have already qualified," said Sharbatly, who owns five horses and is a full-time rider.

"If you have to have success at the international level, you need to be a professional. This is my full-time job and there are many like me in Saudi Arabia.

"Abu Dhabi provided a quality field including an Olympic Games gold medallist in Cian O'Connor. My colleagues and teammates al Eid, Prince Abdullah and Kamal Bahamdan are all excellent riders. But a lot depends on the moods of the horse.

"My horse seemed a bit nervous at the start but she got over it and gave me a real good round."

Sharbatly won the Dubai Grand Prix for the second time and has been a regular traveller to the country for qualifiers for the World Cup in Leipzig from April 27 to May 1.

O'Connor, who was stripped of his gold medal in the 2004 summer Olympics for a drug offence, was sixth on Larkhill Cruiser.