United Arab Emirates Shocks Sport with Challenge Cup Win

The recently-crowned European champions from Ireland finish second ahead of Team Brazil in third; no winner of €50,000 bonus on offer to four riders tonight

It was history in the making when the United Arab Emirates crushed their considerably more experienced opponents to win the Challenge Cup at the Longines FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Final under the lights of the Real Club de Polo in Barcelona (ESP) tonight. They finished second-last of the 15 participating nations in yesterday’s first qualifier when collecting a total of 34 faults so looked way out of contention going into this competition reserved for the seven teams that didn’t make the cut into tomorrow night’s series title-decider.

But tonight they never touched a pole, and even more impressively they came out on top without having to call up their fourth team member. It was something of a walkover, with their three time faults leaving them six faults clear of the new European champions from Ireland, while Team Brazil slotted into third with an 11-fault finishing score.

UAE-Mohammed Ghanem Al Hajri on Pour Le Poussage. Photo:FEI/ Libby Law Photography

They even had the worst of the draw, with 33-year-old Abdullah Mohammed Al Marri first to take on Santiago Varela’s 13-fence course which demanded both accuracy and speed. With his mare, Sama Dubai FBH, he made it look easy however when picking up just two time faults, and then Abdullah Humaid Al Muhairi and Cha Cha Cha posted an extraordinary clear only to be followed by a single time fault for Mohammed Ghanem Al Hajri and Pour le Poussage.

There was a look of near-disbelief on many UAE supporter’s faces when they realised that, even without the help of anchorman Sheikh Majid Al Qassimi and Celtion, they already had it all wrapped up.

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Delighted UAE Chef d’Equipe, Karl Schneider, reckoned it was their poor start that spurred his side to success tonight. “Sheikh Majid is normally our best rider, but yesterday he was first to go and he didn’t have a good time, maybe his horse didn’t travel well, but anyway I think that shocked all the other boys and that’s why they didn’t ride well. So we changed the team order for today and put him in last, and I was only joking when I said that maybe he might not have to jump tonight!”

This result is no fluke however, it’s the result of years of effort.

“We’ve been working really hard setting the basis for the sport in our country, and for the first time we had more than four riders to choose from for a Nations Cup which was brilliant, and we chose the four that were in form and thankfully we did well!” Al Marri said.

UAE-Abdulla Mohd Al Marri rides Sama Dubai FBH. Photo: Libby Law / FEI

He is based in France where he works as a policeman and has been training with America’s Alice Debany Clero for the last 12 years. “The other three boys are in my stable in Bonn, Germany, the same place as Henrik von Eckermann, and they were all the summer with me. So we made a good plan about Abdullah’s shows and Al Marri came with Alice to join us, and the boys got a bit of experience of being together and finally it worked really well!” explained Chef d’Equipe Schneider.

Alice Debany Clero, who suffered a badly-broken leg in a fall from a young horse five months ago and has been course-walking all week on crutches, explained her connection to the winning team. “I started working for Princess Haya back in 2000 and I coached her at the Olympics in Sydney and we remained very close friends. She hired me in 2005, so I’m about to start my 13th season with Dubai” she said.

Princess Haya, Former FEI President and wife of Sheikh Mohammed, ruler of Dubai said tonight, “I’m so thrilled, so proud of this success, after all the hard work they’ve invested over the years; they really deserved this!”

Result: 1, UAE 3 faults; 2, Ireland 9 faults; 3, Brazil 11 faults; 4, Spain 15 faults; 5, Great Britain 17 faults; 6, New Zealand 20 faults; 7, Italy 26 faults.

Full result here.