Thursday, April 21, 2011

Australia: Shk Majid al Maktoum Challenge - Jay Randle

April 18 2011

We arrived on Friday afternoon and I was astounded at the location! It was very easy to access; from the highway it looked like something special was happening, and the lay-out was well designed.... with the exception of the requirement that all vehicles had to be parked in an east-west direction.... which made the large paddock a very hot place to be, with no shade available. For the next ride at this location, may I suggest that (if the same requirement for all the parking to look "neat" is in effect) all vehicles should park on a north-south axis to allow for shade patches to be utilised??

The big screen was certainly an eye-catching feature! However the repetitive nature of the videos played pre-ride was pretty ordinary. Once the screen was showing actual ride and vetting footage, it was great! I thought it was fun to try to spot the camera operator!!

The site is used for field days, and has some permanent structures and some concrete pads which are used for temporary display stands. Although there seemed to be plenty of power boxes, and a number of water taps, both power and water were unavailable for over half of the area due to a lack of generator power, I believe. Hopefully this will be rectified in time for the June event.

There was a free feed put on on Friday evening for all riders, officials, strappers, volunteers, etc. Which meant everybody! The food was good, and plentiful, and the atmosphere was similar to some American and European rides I have attended where similar style catering is common-place. Maybe a bar would have made it even more fun...

4am Saturday morning saw the start of the 160km 3-star event, with 6 starters. At 5am the 120km 2-star event commenced, with 27 Open and 10 Youth starters. That the track was fast was evidenced by the quick pace of the first leg, and it certainly made the strapping and vetting areas very interesting! It was pretty clear early on that there were going to be heavy casualties with lots of lamenesses visible. From talking to various riders I discovered that the track, although flat, had a multitude of different types of footing, including soft sand, hard packed tracks, rocky patches, muddy patches, and muddy soft patches with hard spiky rocks underneath! Most people I spoke to mentioned that it would be a good idea to pad for this ride in future.

A 40km training ride was also offered on Saturday, with pre-ride vetting from about 7am, and the ride commencing at 10am. Although the morning dawned quite warm, and then it turned hot for about an hour, by 10am it was raining lightly and quite cool! So the training riders set off on a wet track, although most looked like they were enjoying it! My good friend Kate Gadsby had delivered a 40km horse for one of my young riders, Sam Barling, to do her second 40km on, and they both set off looking great. The training ride was 2 legs, of 25km and 17.5km, and Sam and Deep Forest Contest completed the ride very well and easily. Thanks to Kate Gadsby for allowing Sam to ride her beautiful Connie!

By this time the 120km ride was really getting interesting, as I had 1 horse entered in the Youth Division: Aloha Farina (owned by Lisa Stone) being ridden by Natashja Burton. Farina and Natashja did the first leg of 40km in 2:35, the second leg of 30km in 1:46, the third leg of 25km in 1:39, and the final leg of 25km in 1:34, for a consistent average speed of over 15km per hour. Farina vetted well after each leg, and ended up with a total ride time of 7:51:56.

The weather during the day fluctuated from drizzly and mild to hot and steamy, with patches of windy and cool. Quite a number (more than half the field, I believe) of competitors were lame in the trot-outs, and a couple of horses were treated during the day. After the third leg, Natashja and Farina were in 5th place, however the leader vetted out at the third Vet check. I then told Natashja to pass one particular rider who was just in front of her, and so the pair ended up in 3rd place, just under 6 minutes behind the winner! Natashja rode a very good ride, and Farina looked great throughout.

The strapping area gave everyone plenty of room, and the water supply was maintained by one of the ride volunteers who worked his butt off to keep the troughs filled. Because the ground is mainly sandy, there was not that terrible problem of sloshing through increasingly wet and muddy conditions in the strapping area.

Saturday evening saw some celebrations, and Sunday morning saw the start of the 80km 1-star event at 5am. We had one entry, Splendacrest Superb (owned by Clare Fleming) ridden by Gerard Bou. The 80km ride was in three legs: 25km, 30km, 25km. The first leg of 25km wasn't enough to even begin to tire out Super, and he was still jumping out of his skin after the second leg. It was only after he completed the 80km that he started to look tired, although G was pretty tired well before then! Super and G completed in 4:53, for 7th Open placing.

There was an exciting gallop finish between the 2 front-runners, and I heard that the "maximum speed" registered on the GPS unit of one of them was 49.4km per hour! There was also a protest after the race, second against first, due to the location of the finish line having been changed without the knowledge of the riders. However the original placings were upheld, with the winner's time being 3:38:30. Pretty fast ride!

I was very pleased with our results on the weekend, and look forward to the June ride at the same location. My overall impression of the event was favourable, and I acknowlege the effort put in by the Toft family and all the volunteers, FEI Officials, QERA volunteers, and anyone who helped to make this event such a good one. I would certainly recommend the June ride as an event not to be missed, however the inclusion of an AERA 160km alongside the FEI*** 160km ride would be welcomed.

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