Bahrain’s Hashemi wins ‘very hard’ 120km AlUla endurance horse race

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Soft sand and warm temperatures posed challenges for riders at a 120 kilometer endurance horse race in Saudi Arabia’s AlUla on Saturday.

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Bahrain’s Mohammed Hashemi, riding 11-year-old gelding Leon, won the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup in the ancient city of AlUla.

But four other horses from Bahrain’s royal stables did not make it to the end of the race, disqualified after failing to pass veterinary checks.

The race was “very hard,” winner Hashemi told Al Arabiya English at the podium. “The weather was hot, and the track was a little bit bad, but in the end we did what we came for.”

Dr Khaled Hassan, director of the island kingdom’s royal stables, echoed his jockey’s sentiments, explaining that “the ground is not easy, the climate is not easy.”

“It is a challenging track,” he went on to say, “and we appreciate the organizers that keep on organizing these prestigious events.”

Runner up Maria Alvarez, who rode Bolchoi El Akim, said that her team from Spain were confident that they would “finish close to the lead.”

“But you never know,” she added, “because the races are different and there were a lot of horses in front in the morning.”

Bahrain's team celebrates their victory at the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup in Saudi Arabia's AlUla on Saturday, March 4 2023.
Bahrain's team celebrates their victory at the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup in Saudi Arabia's AlUla on Saturday, March 4 2023.

Riders set off at 7 a.m. against a stunning backdrop of AlUla’s mountainous desert, with the winner crossing the finish just after 3 p.m.

More than 200 horses started off the race, but after hours of rigorous riding, only 65 ended up crossing the finish line.

The others were disqualified due to failing veterinary tests carried out after each of the four sections of the track.

The second loop proved perhaps the most challenging, after which almost 70 riders were eliminated.

AlUla is arguably the crown jewel of Saudi Arabia’s ambitious tourism strategy, part of which involves bolstering equestrian sport in the ancient city.

Part of this year’s Endurance Cup involved training five AlUla locals to ride and compete in the grueling event.

Around 40 event staff working in stewarding and vet assistance roles were also chosen from the local community.

Prince Abdullah bin Fahd bin Abdullah, chairman of the Saudi Equestrian Federation, explained to Al Arabiya English that there are “big things” coming for the future of equestrian sport in AlUla.

“I can assure you that you'll be seeing more equestrian competitions with different disciplines here in AlUla soon to come,” he said.

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