Press conference after an endurance ride in Egypt
Speaker: On everybody's behalf, I would like to welcome His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, His Highness Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed Al Nahyan and the young champion, His Highness Sheikh Rashid bin Mohammed Al Maktoum. I would also like to welcome Ibrahim Nafie, Chief Editor of Al Ahram Newspaper and Chairman of Al Ahram Organisation, the Egyptian Journalists' Syndicate and the Arab Journalists' Federation.
I welcome you all to this press conference in the sacred birthplace of civilisation, Egypt.
I will pass the microphone to Mr. Ibrahim Nafie.
Mr. Nafie: In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate, it gives me great pleasure to welcome you, Crown Prince, Defence Minister and my dear friend. I am also pleased to welcome my friend, colleague and brother, Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed. I welcome, too, the audience and competitors of this race.
First, we must thank Sheikh Mohammed, who has given this project both moral and financial support from the very beginning. We must not forget the support of Sheikh Hazza and his brothers and of Sheikh Mohammed's sons, without which the race would not have been possible.
I thank you on behalf of all Egyptians.
I would now like to open the floor for questions.
Husam Rustum, Saheel Equestrian magazine: Your Highness, a warm welcome to the historic land of Egypt. May Allah bless you, for your participation has encouraged our horses and riders to accept new challenges. I would like to ask for your honest appraisal of the Egyptian riders' performance. Were they competitive?
I would also like to hear what you believe to be the main factors behind the success of Nad Al Sheba racecourse and whether you think a racecourse in Egypt would have similar success?
Sheikh Mohammed: In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate, I would like to welcome you all. As to your first question, I accepted the invitation to participate in last year's endurance race to encourage the riders, my Egyptian brothers, as I know that Egyptians are real equestrians and that success is in their blood. I also know that Egyptian horses are amongst the finest Arabian thoroughbreds. As you know, pure Arabian horses are the best endurance racers.
The Egyptian riders' performance has improved greatly since last year. Improvement comes with experience and for this, you need to participate in more races. Egyptians used to be very interested in this sport and we are attempting to revive the phoenix from the ashes. I hope that Egypt will achieve great progress through wisdom and perseverance.
When I started to participate in endurance races, my aim was to finish, not to win. I concentrated on preserving my horse's energy. It is important for beginners to focus on completing the race rather than winning it.
I felt that the Egyptian riders were competitive this time and that, in time, they will be able to win races.
With regards to your second question, the racing industry in the UAE has had international success, because of the great care we give our horses. They benefit from wintering in the UAE where they eat 20% more than the European horses and we can train them daily while Europe experiences cold and snow.
Journalist: Your Highness, it is a great honour to have you here in Egypt. My question concerns the possibility of forming a team of Arab riders led by you, who would compete in international endurance races.
Sheikh Mohammed: I think that's a great idea. We are trying to get endurance racing accepted as an Olympic event, as it's one of the fastest growing sports in the world and many countries participate in the races. God willing, it will be an Olympic event very soon and then we will select the best riders from the Arabic countries.
Journalist, Al Hayat newspaper: Did you have any real competition this year? Was Sheikh Hazza bin Zayed a challenging opponent? What are your ambitions with regards to endurance racing?
Sheikh Mohammed: As I said, any competition is real competition. I noticed that there was stiff competition in the first phase and I'm sure that if you asked Sheikh Hazza, he would agree. We relied on our experience and adapted our pace to the conditions. We mustn't forget that although Sheikh Hazza's horse was injured, he still managed to finish the race. That's the kind of spirit I'm talking about and that is what the other riders should remember: determination brings success. You and your horse must be as one soul.
Sheikh Hazza won the last race in the UAE - he is a great competitor and one must always seek the toughest competition in order to improve one's ability.
Jasper Mortimer, Associated Press: Crown Prince, good afternoon and congratulations for winning the race for a second year in a row.
My name is Jasper Mortimer, I'm with the Associated Press.
I have two questions to ask you, one nasty one and one nice one. I'll give you the nasty one first.
Sheikh Mohammed: Okay.
Mortimer: Last year, you won the race wearing spurs and there was quite a controversy about the spurs afterwards. And photographs of you galloping past the Saqqara pyramids wearing spurs appeared on the Internet and in the Cairo Times newspaper, but nobody in Egypt filed a complaint with the Federation Equestre Internationale and so their investigation into your wearing spurs was dropped.
I want to ask you if you feel a little bit guilty about your use of spurs in last year's race.
And the second question is, this year you did a remarkable thing. At the end of the first stage, you were lying 23rd in the race, 21 minutes behind the leader and yet you managed to make up and win the race. That's a remarkable acceleration and I wanted to know how you did it. What do you put your success down to? Thank you.
Sheikh Mohammed: Thank you for your honest question. First of all, no, I don't feel guilty, because I don't use the spurs to hurt my horse. What happened was, last year, nobody was told and the year before that, all America, all Europe, were using spurs and it was on my shoes when I rode with them last year. It wasn't my mistake - nobody really said that is wrong. This time, they said no spurs, no whip and of course we followed the rules, but last year I think they are wrong, because in Europe, in America, in Australia, they all were using spurs.
So I don't feel guilty because actually my horse was happy.
The second question is, yes, when you ask me I was 20 minutes and I was more than 20 or 25 behind and you say, "Do you think you still will win?" and I say I don't know, I was going my pace.
Did you think I was going to win then?
Mortimer: No, I didn't.
Sheikh Mohammed: You didn't. Well, neither did I.
Mohammed Mursi, Al Ittihad newspaper: What is the future for the great horse Al Fayiq, who has achieved four major victories in 2 years? And how do you rate the UAE riders' current performance?
Sheikh Mohammed: UAE riders won the European Junior Championship and the Professional Championship last year. We came to Egypt to provide encouragement and to create a competitive atmosphere. We were not concerned with winning, we were just interested in participating with our Egyptian brothers and learning from them while they learned from us.
Presenter, Egyptian Television: Are there any plans for Egypt to cooperate with the Arab countries in establishing a horseracing school to train youngsters in a scientific manner so that they can compete internationally?
Sheikh Mohammed: I know that there are many such schools and clubs internationally, but a passion for the sport is more important. Many of the participants in today's event already have this passion and the races are the real school. Today was the second class.
Representative, Nile Sports Channel: As a sport, horse riding has enjoyed tremendous growth in the Arab world. What are expectations for the sport at the Olympic level?
Sheikh Mohammed: That's a good question. Olympic Committee reports state that horse riding is growing in popularity in many countries. This is a good sign for horse riding's future as an Olympic sport.
Alaa Ismael, Al Bayan newspaper: We would like to congratulate you on your great victory. We want to ask your opinion of the 2nd Egyptian Endurance race. What do you think of the organisation? Did you notice any improvements? What do you foresee for next year's race? Is there any chance that the date will be changed to a time when the temperature is more moderate and comfortable for viewers and riders?
Sheikh Mohammed: The answer is simple. We are here as participants and not as organisers, so the organisers are the ones who designated the race date.
Omar Abbas, Egyptian TV Channel 1: We appreciate your efforts to promote the sport to an Olympic level, giving Arab riders an opportunity. We have heard that there are attempts to get the sport approved so that it will feature in the 2004 Olympics in Athens on an honorary basis and be an official part of the 2008 Olympics. We would like to know what progress has been made in this matter.
Sheikh Mohammed: The Olympic committee in the UAE made the decision and it is their responsibility to follow up.
Journalist: As Crown Prince and Defence Minister, how do you handle Arabian horses? What kind of relationship have you developed with them?
Sheikh Mohammed: We Arabs have equestrianism in our blood, so it's not surprising that we like it so much. The endurance race is a sport for horse owners - don't forget that we ride our own horses in these races. In other races, you choose a jockey to ride while you watch through binoculars, but it is far more exhilarating to ride your own horse through this endless desert with the pyramids and friends around. It's the best sport, as a rider loses four to five kilos. It is unlike any other sport.
Chief Editor, Al Bayt Al Arabi newspaper: Your Highness, welcome to your second home, Cairo. Of course, you are more than just a rider, you are now an expert in the field. What are the specific qualities of Arabian horses and what qualifies a horse to compete in endurance races, as there are many owners out there who think that their horses are fit to participate?
Sheikh Mohammed refers the question to Sheikh Hazza.
Sheikh Hazza: In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful. First, I would like to thank everyone who attended. With regards to endurance races, there are features that qualify the horse to race, as previously mentioned by Sheikh Mohammed. The owner and trainer must also be prepared to allocate time to training, as it is impossible to judge at first glimpse whether a horse is qualified for endurance racing.
There are several criteria that define a good Arabian horse, including structure, size, straightness of legs, absence of birth defects, bone build, physical fitness, elasticity and harmony of muscles. It takes a year to identify all these features, but at least 5 years for a horse to be qualified for endurance racing.
Arnold Garby, Horse & Hound magazine: Your Highness, Arnold Garby, Horse & Hound magazine. First, congratulations on a wonderful ride, you gave your horse a beautiful chance.
Two questions. In our magazine we have a column called Horse of a Lifetime - is Reflex going to be your horse of a lifetime? The second question: where are we in the plan to make endurance racing part of the Olympics? Have you got a strategy and where are we? Thank you.
Sheikh Mohammed: Would you like to say your second question again, please? I couldn't hear it.
Garby: With the Olympics, we know endurance wants to become an Olympic sport. This is near all our hearts. How far are we down the road, and do we have a strategy for achieving this?
Sheikh Mohammed: Okay, if I may answer your second question first. Yes, I answered that in Arabic and I said, many countries this hope is growing very much, in many countries, and it's a matter of time it will be in the Olympics - it will force the Olympics because it is growing more than any jumping or show horses or all this so there, it's coming.
And for your first question, the horse of the lifetime, I think, is Dubai Millennium. The flat horse races, I never saw anything like it.
Journalist: There wasn't much competition at last year's race, but this year there was tough competition. How did you keep your title as the winner of the race for two consecutive years?
Sheikh Mohammed: I don't think that is accurate. Last year there was tough competition. The competition is always heated in endurance racing.
Journalist, Al Ittihad: First, I'd like to congratulate Their Highnesses Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Hazza for coming first and second. I have a question for Mr. Ibrahim Nafie, (Chief Editor of Al Ahram Al Arabi). We are accustomed to Al Ahram organising and sponsoring championships and competitions in sports such as squash and handball, but what is the objective behind organising this race?
Ibrahim Nafie: Firstly, by holding this race in a historic site by the pyramids, we gained exposure for tourist attractions and illustrated the relationship between Egyptian culture and a genuinely Arabic sport. Secondly, this was a gathering of prominent Arabic personages, which reflects Arab closeness and unity on Arab land. Thirdly, and this is a very important point, this will attract Arab tourists and those who are interested in horse racing and finally, this year's gathering serves to promote endurance riding so that it will be part of the Olympics. We are also working on registering squash as an Olympic sport.
Journalist: I'd like to ask Your Highness about the terrain that the horses ran on and to ask about your plans with regards to endurance racing in the Olympics?
Sheikh Mohammed: With regards to the Olympics, I have repeatedly answered the question, but I would like to remind you of something important. I refer the first part of your question to my son Rashid.
I would like to mention one fact that everyone should know; the best horses in the world are descended from Arabian thoroughbreds. We are proud of these races, because there is not a horse race around the world where Arabian blood is not represented. We must be proud of this fact.
Now, let Sheikh Rashid answer the question about terrain. Let's hear his point of view.
Sheikh Rashid: In any marathon race, you will face difficulties and sand is the particular challenge of this race. It is different, the sand was challenging. In every marathon, there is a source of difficulty, but as my father has mentioned, we basically came here to share our Egyptian brothers' race. We noticed that they have improved since last year. It is a great honour for us to participate with our Arab brothers. I hope that they will improve enough to be able to take part in the Olympics with us.
Also, the scenery is attractive and worth visiting.
Correspondent, Abu Dhabi TV: I would like to start by congratulating H.H. Sheikh Mohammed on his victory. My question is addressed to H.H. Sheikh Hazza. After winning Al Wathba's night race and competing in this race, how do you see your future in this sport?
I would also like to know the characteristics that make a good horse rider and the recommended training strategies to qualify a rider for endurance races.
Sheikh Hazza: In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate. My participation in Al Wathba race 3 days ago was my first endurance racing victory. There is no doubt that a win makes one ambitious for more wins, but I have often participated in endurance races with H.H. Sheikh Mohammed where I faced great challenges, because of my lack of experience and recent introduction to such races. I only have two years experience in endurance racing.
One big mistake in endurance racing is to speed from the beginning and when winning as this affects the horse negatively and can lead to losing the race. After you acquire experience, you start thinking about how to position yourself well with regards to the other riders.
As for training strategies, there are several, but the most important thing is to keep participating in races, running your horses in real championship conditions. In fact, I saw some excellent horses today, I'm sure the endurance racing will flourish. Today's race was excellent.
Speaker: We would like to thank His Highness Sheikh Mohammed
Sheikh Mohammed: I would like to thank all of you and we are happy to stay here, because we are pleased and comfortable. On behalf of all my brother participants, it gives us great honour to present the Emirates team's victory to our brothers, the Egyptian horse riders.
Speaker: Thank you, Your Highness Sheikh Mohammed, Dubai Crown Prince.