AL WATHBA // Martin Stirling gave his family, who had made the long trip to the UAE, two reasons to celebrate yesterday with victory in the FEI World Endurance Championship for Young Riders and Juniors.
The 15 year old from Uruguay rode Vendaval to win the 120-kilometre race, and then helped the South Americans take the team gold at the Emirates International Endurance Village.
The biennial championship drew 79 riders from 29 countries and 48 completed the race, which was run over five loops of 33km, 27km, 24km, 20km and 16km.
Stirling guided the nine-year-old bay gelding to victory ahead of Australia's Allix Jones on Castlebar Moonlight. Oriana Ricca, his Uruguayan team member, took bronze on Hunter Toro.
"It was a very fast-run race," said Stirling. "The weather was nice and cool but the track was difficult, particularly the first three loops with some sharp climbs and downhill trail, and some deep sandy areas to negotiate.
"Having come out of the toughest stages, I was confident. I wasn't far off behind the first horse in the second last loop. My horse was in good shape when I went into the last 16km and then went all out.
"To win was a great achievement and to win the team gold as well was really fantastic ... To win the world junior title in the UAE is my biggest and most memorable."
Stirling's parents, his two brothers and baby sister travelled with him along with Magdalena Odriozola, the owner of Vendaval.
"Martin's my neighbour," said Odriozola. "It's just four horses we have and train in the farm. Vendaval was a birthday gift to me. Martin used to ride the horses and today he rode a great race to win.
"Uruguay won both the individual and team gold medals at the Pan American Games in October in Chile, and now to win the individual and team titles, and a bronze in the world juniors, is remarkable."
Jones, 19, said she could not have wished for a better result.
"The final loop was run very fast," she said. "It was flat and dusty. I tried my hardest to catch the leader, but I am happy to take the silver. It's my biggest win in endurance and hope I will now get an opportunity to ride in the world championship."
The UAE's Sheikh Khalifa bin Mohammed Al Hamed finished fifth on Ultimo, an 11-year-old thoroughbred chestnut gelding, after leading on the fourth loop.
"It was a very hard race," said Sheikh Khalifa bin Mohammed. "I have never experienced such a challenging race before. Of course, I had every chance, but then my horse didn't respond to the strong pace in the final loop."
The UAE's three other riders were out of the race at the end of the penultimate loop. Mohammed Saeed Al Faresi's Fenwick Cadenza was vetted out for lameness at the end of the third loop.
There was more frustration for the hosts when Khalifa Ghanim's Little Joe Fox was eliminated for the same reason, and Ali Ghanim retired Castlebar Tornado, both in the second last loop.
Adil Said Abdullah Al Baloushi, the sole entry from Oman, finished a creditable ninth on Schalla Face and said he hoped the result would inspire more of his countrymen to take up the reins.
"This is the first time for Oman to be represented in the world juniors," said Al Baloushi.
"Endurance in Oman is not as established as in the UAE but I hope such results will encourage more to participate."