~ with files from CHI Al Shaqab
It was a spectacularly successful day for the German showjumping star Marcus Ehning and his horse Stargold as they returned to the scene of their win in this event last year – and won again! The jump-off for the title, contested by seven riders, provided a thrilling conclusion to this third and final day of world-class equestrian sport at the 2023 Commercial Bank CHI AL SHAQAB Presented by Longines, in the magnificent Longines Arena at Al Shaqab.
This traditional climax to CHI AL SHAQAB attracted a 39-strong field of elite showjumpers from 16 nations. Germany’s Ehning achieved three clear rounds riding his 12-year-old bay stallion Stargold to secure the Grand Prix title and the lion’s share of 135,300 euros of the 410,000 euro purse. In second place was Frenchman Simon on Dexter Fontenis Z and in third place Japan’s young Mike Kawai on Saxo de la Cour recorded their best-ever result.
The elated winner commented: “I didn’t think it was possible to win it again with the same horse, but he’s in great shape and very fresh. I’m so proud of him! You’re only ever as good as your horse – and I know this horse very well. I know he can do whatever we ask of him, and that gives me confidence. I’m getting old myself now, but I can carry on for a few years still, if I have the right horses. Everything went fine today.”
Earlier, with an exceptional final score of 84.070%, the Swedish dressage star Patrik Kittel took this year’s Grand Prix Freestyle title and a winner’s cheque for EUR 26,000. Patrik rode his 11-year-old gelding Touchdown, the pair finishing ahead of the Netherlands’ Dinja van Liere (78.455%) on Hartsuijker and, in third, Germany’s Evelyn Eger (77.840%) aboard Westminster.
Patrik expressed his sense of redemption at the victory after making a significant error in yesterday’s Grand Prix tests. “I have to say I was quite nervous today, even though I’ve been in the sport for 25 years. But it all felt good and, from the first to the last halt, my horse just flew through. It was a really cool ride – at another great show for Al Shaqab. One thing I love here is how you see so many children riding and interacting with horses. We all love the sport of course, but it’s also about horses being part of society and a positive influence in young people’s lives. And to see those developments here really warms my heart.”
The CPEDI 3* GP Freestyle class brought a third victory of the weekend for the USA’s Kate Shoemaker, with a remarkable score of 81.850% – a full 8 percentage points ahead of her closest rival in Grade IV; Kate had previously triumphed in the Grand Prix A and B tests. Another serial winner here was Dutchwoman Annemarieke Nobel, who had already taken Grade I first place in Friday’s Grand Prix B.
The full list of winners in Saturday’s Freestyle: Grade I, Annemarieke Nobel (NED) 74.222%; Grade II, Beatrice de Lavalette (USA) 77.722%; Grade III, Lotte Krijnsen (NED) 75.833%; Grade IV, Kate Shoemaker (USA) 81.850%; and Grade V, Kevin van Ham (BEL), 72.875%.
Speaking at the final press conference, Al Shaqab’s Event Director Omar Al-Mannai said, “It’s always a pleasure for us to gather everyone around us to witness top performances and a great competition. The riders, the horses – everyone is doing their best to put on a great show here in Qatar. We truly appreciate that our 10th edition has been celebrated with some great sport over the past three days.”
The 2023 Commercial Bank CHI AL SHAQAB Presented by Longines wound up on Feb. 25th with a mind-boggling presentation in the main arena. I always get a bit verklempt at this point, knowing that the event is over and we will all be scattering to the winds once again. I met and chummed around with some lovely journalists on this trip and we made a bit of an international gang: Irish, British, Australian (living in Cairo, how exotic is that?) and Canadian. We all agreed that while the sport is world-class and exciting at these shows, the people you meet are the icing on the cake.
Some observations about the Al Shaqab venue and why it ranks up there with best horse shows in the world, IMHO:
- The most gorgeous facility; both the outdoor and indoor arenas have huge atmospheres, massive grandstands, top-notch press facilities, and the warmups areas and stables are second to none.
- Friendliest and most helpful staff and volunteers
- Best food for hard-working media at a horse show, hands down
- The horses seem to really like it here – it is warm during the winter season in Qatar, but not like south Florida’s oppressive humid heat.
Riders rave about the facilities and the first-class treatment they receive. One of my fave comments was by Patrik Kittel, who described the dilemma of arriving a few days early to let the horse acclimate and being faced with a couple of days off from training, as compared to a European show where it is ship in, go-go-go. “It’s amazing – we go to the beach, we eat fantastic food, but for me personally it gives me time to get nervous. You get to enjoy yourself but it’s very much a mental thing to keep myself mentally prepared.” Still, I bet if you really tried, Patrik, you could learn to get mentally prepared while lying on the beach….
And what does the future hold for Al Shaqab, which is perfectly positioned to host a World Championships or even a full WEG? Al Shaqab’s Event Director Omar Al-Mannai offers this teaser: “We’re working on it. Everything could be possible at this venue. We are also going to enhance some of the areas that need some development to host bigger events. I think we are there, but it will be announced in a little [time].”
I can’t leave without posting some more random shots from here and there:
So it’s back to the land of ice and snow and power failures and flooded basements … Fearless Editor, over and out.