This weekend was the 'world's richest horse race' - the Dubai World Cup (or Meydan Cup, named sponsor). I usually don't follow thoroughbred racing very closely, but this year the race was won by California Chrome, the 2014 Kentucky Derby winner (whose sire was raised and trained in Idaho) so he was sort of a 'home town' favorite. And the photo of him crossing the wire is an 'OMG' photo! it appears that just a few more strides and his saddle would have slipped all the way back to his haunches. It also got me reminiscing... in 2001 the Dubai World Cup also included an Endurance race. UAE (United Arab Emirates) was just building endurance into a National sport, the rulers were promoting the sport, and also competing, so it was a big deal, and this was a showcase event. I was invited to attend with Nature's Kruschev (Krusty) as we had finished well at the World Championship in France the summer before. So we loaded onto a Cargo plane out of Los Angeles and flew to Dubai for another great adventure. John and Destry (youngest son, 15 yrs at the time) came along as my crew. We went early to acclimate and recover from the trip so had several days to play tourist and experience the country. Dubai wasn't built up much yet - still a lot of open space and residential areas, and one day Destry decided to skateboard from one end of the city to the other. We had some fun parties too - all the riders and crews (from the other countries) were caravanned across the desert for a night celebration. Tents and carpets and bonfire and dinner - chefs grilling over open flames, an array of salads and deserts and a few special arabian treats. Sheikh Mohamed (bin Rashid Al Maktoum - ruler of Dubai) was also there joining in the festivities, meeting the riders, dancing with us around the bonfire. He had taken up the sport himself, so was fully devoted to it. It was an amazing experience, treated as guests in a bedouin culture - in a country on the brink of becoming a world force. I've had some amazing experiences thanks to this sport - and this was one of them. Here's my write-up of race day:
Well - it was an amazing ride -
Results - the UAE website hasn't posted the results yet, and I don't have anything official with me right now, but from what I remember: UAE riders placed 1,2,3 - Terry Wood from Australia placed 4th. Best Condition was a rider from Spain on a leased horse (Sheik Mohammed's stable). Sheik Mohammed finished 7th - and he rode a very impressive ride - 60th into the first vet gate, and just kept moving up steadily all day. A smart ride and a good example of pacing and careful riding. US riders - Jennifer Nice placed 18th on her horse Al Baraq (now owned by UAE), Karen DiCamillo and SR Sharee placed 24th, Jan Worthington placed 30th on a UAE horse. 33 finishers total, 86 started. Valerie Kanavy and Bear Cat were eliminated at 73 miles (7 miles left to go), Rita Swift got very sick from heat stroke and had to quit at 60 miles, Darolyn Butler's horse, Chaser found some buried rebar and injured his pastern during the first loop, eliminated at the first vet gate. I pulled Khruschev at 40 miles. He stumbled and came out of it lame - he had a crack in his heel where a sole abcess had worked up through the foot and he probably banged it when he stumbled. Beecher's thermal-radiographic unit detected heat (inflammation) in his heel after the ride. Disappointing to not finish (only his second pull in almost 3000 miles) but we had a blast while we were out there!!
Steph & Kruschev before the start
It was a VERY energetic start - the horses were all incredibly eager. Even Khruschev was doing some serious bucking for the first few miles. A couple horses went on for a while without their riders ..... We settled into a mid-pack pace for most of the first loop. It's so flat there that we could see the front runners moving out on the horizon - dust from the horses and the zillions of 4WD rigs driving along beside them. It was incredible - at least one rig for each rider, driving ahead, hopping out and offering bullets of cold bottled water for the rider to pour over the horse. Every 3 kilometers or so the drivers would have water for the horses and riders. I rode with Jennifer Nice for the first loop - our horses went well together, kept up an 18 km/hr pace (about 10-11 mph) for the first 22 mile loop. Jennifer is now working in UAE and riding for one of the stables, so she had the stable drive and crew for her and generously shared their services with me. (John and Destry stayed in at the camp instead of driving out with me). The crew guys were great - water and electrolytes, and hollering out speed and distance at intervals. Most of the trail was pretty flat, easy going, but there was a lot of deep sand as well. The crew rigs were supposed to stay off of the horse trail, so they paralleled the riders - usually off in the deeper sand. I stopped counting the number of 4WD rigs stuck in the sand after the first 10 miles. Very entertaining - and I think the drivers were as interested in racing each other as they were in crewing for their riders!
We pulsed down pretty quickly after the first loop - and even at a 10mph pace we were already 25 minutes behind the front runners! Incredible speed on these fast/flat desert courses. It is certainly different from the sport that most of us do in the USA. This is a race... not a ride.
We spent some extra time at the vet check letting Khruschev eat more - his gut sounds were diminished - and doing some emergency shoe fixes (Jaye Perry was there for the Kanavy crew, but helped everybody out as well). Khruschev was really cranked for this ride, as were all of the horses. He was in pretty good form, though a little chubby for a fast,hot ride. He vetted in with a 28 pulse! and never even went over a 110 pulse during the entire time we were on the trail - but ... it's pretty tough to take a horse that trains in the mountains and ask them to maintain a constant, fast, pace in relatively flat terrain. Muscle and limb fatigue is a problem. Plus the horses from the northern hemisphere had at most 3 weeks to acclimate to the heat. This is probably a bigger issue than the terrain for most of the horses.
We went back out on the second loop in good shape - his gut sounds were strong, and he was feeling great. We rode alone for the first couple miles and then caught up with a UAE rider - one of the Dubai Police riders. Had a nice time riding with him, and he shared his crew with me - water, electrolytes, etc - whatever we needed. Great fun - I've invited him to come ride in Idaho - but I think he was a little taken aback with the idea of mountains and minimal crewing! About 3 miles from the vetgate, Khruschev stumbled and came up lame - we were at a crew point so I was able to ask to have a horse 'ambulence' come and get us and drive us back to the village. We went directly into the treatment tent - very very nice facility - state of the art - competent veterinarians, friendly, helpful. The vet gave Khruschev a thorough examination, couldn't find any soreness in his limb, thought it might be the foot - released us and I took K back to the barn. Very efficient, professional care.
John, Destry and I spent the rest of the day helping crew for the others. Valerie and Karen were doing well, horses looking good. Rita was pretty sick, but determined to stick it out if she could. Jennifer and Jan were both riding as US riders, but they were in the UAE section for crew, so we didn't see them except on the trail. There horses were kept in separate areas because of quarantine requirements.
It was quite a day - Karen and Sharee did a great job, Sharee is an amazing little mare (850 lbs max) - their ride time was 7:33 (I think). The winning time was 6:11 - on an 78 mile course. Fast.... The completion rate was a little over 40%. It got very hot - 35 degrees centigrade - and the sun was pretty fierce. The UAE horses - that live and train here - were impressive.
That's about it for now - I leave in 15 minutes - back out to the stable, load the horses in the van, ship them to Abu Dhabi (2 hr drive) - then we'll load them on the plane and depart at 7am. 6-10 hour layover in Luxembourg, then off to LA. About 20 hours flying time.... long day/night head of us.
More later -