If bookies were taking odds on the Longines FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Final, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) would be the longshot.
In yesterday’s first qualifier, they finished second-last of the 15 participating nations, collecting a total of 34 faults under the lights of the Real Club de Polo in Barcelona, Spain. The team looked all but out of contention for today’s Challenge Cup, the competition reserved for the seven teams that didn’t make the cut for Saturday night’s series title-decider.
To make matters worse, they drew first in the order for today’s class.
But tonight, the UAE returned as the underdog story of the Final. They didn’t just rise to the occasion in the Challenge Cup, they never touched a pole! The team’s performance was so spectacular, they didn’t even need to call up their fourth rider.
The impressive comeback started with a change in the line up.
Explained UAE chef d’equipe, Karl Schneider:
“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!”
Thirty-three-year-old Abdullah Mohammed Al Marri led the team off. As first to take on Santiago Varela’s 13-fence course, which demanded both accuracy and speed, he and Sama Dubai FBH picked up just two time faults. 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.
That three fault total guaranteed UAE the win, even without the help of anchor rider Sheikh Majid Al Qassimi and Celtion!
“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!” said Al Marri, who works as a policeman in France.
Al Marri trains with America’s Alice Debany Clero. The other three riders are based at Schneider’s stable in Bonn, Germany. (It’s also homebase to Sweden’s Henrik von Eckermann.) They spent the summer competing together in Europe.
“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!” enthused Schneider.
It was a fairy tale end to a championship that started off as a nightmare for the UAE.
Taking second in the Challenge Cup with a nine fault total was the new European champions from Ireland. Team Brazil slotted into third with an 11-fault finishing score.
On Saturday, the top eight nations will contest the second round of the Longines FEI Nations Cup™ Jumping Final to determine who will be crowned as the series title holder. Canada currently leads the charge with a team total of zero. Sitting just one rail behind on four faults apiece are The Netherlands, USA, France and Germany. The last three qualifying places for Saturday’s Final go to Belgium, Sweden and Switzerland on eight faults each.
Watch the Final on FEI TV at 3:00pm EDT on Saturday, September 30, 2017.