Sheikh Ali will compete in front of home crowd at Al Shaqab with his top horse, First Devision on Saturday
The magnificent Al Shaqab arena is once again set to host an enticing Global Champions Tour finale. Being the final stop of the 15-city equestrian tour, Doha is where the climax takes place.
Once again the title battle is nicely set up, with two riders challenging for the overall crown – Rolf-Goran Bengtsson of Sweden and Edwina Tops-Alexander of Australia. Bengtsson is just five points ahead of Edwina and they will go face-to-face in Saturday’s Grand Prix, which will unveil the new champion.
But for the locals, it will be Sheikh Ali bin Khalid al-Thani, who will be the centre of attraction. The Qatari rider was the country’s flag bearer at the Opening Ceremony of the Rio Olympics earlier this year.
The top-ranked rider Qatari perhaps needed no more bigger motivation to perform at the Rio Games. The 34-year-old put in a strong performance at his debut Olympics finishing sixth individually. In the team jumping event, Qatar came ninth.
Although, Sheikh Ali is at 20th position in the GCT rankings, ruling him out of the overall title, he could spring a surprise by winning the Grand Prix of Doha this Saturday. Sheikh Ali will compete in front of his home crowd at Al Shaqab with his top horse, First Devision, giving local fans the chance to witness their heroes in action for the first time since the Olympic Games.
Talking about what it meant to be back in Qatar and riding, Sheikh Ali said: “We are honoured to have this event in Qatar, this is the final, it’s in my country – we will do our best to perform well. It is an international event and will be broadcast around the world.”
The euphoric memory of carrying the Qatar flag at the Maracana Stadium still lights up Sheikh Ali’s face. “It was a proud moment to represent Qatar and it got even better when you get to be the flagbearer at the Olympics. It pushed me to perform well because of that feeling I was carrying the Qatari flag,” he recounts.
Sheikh Ali said the Olympic experience will serve him good for his confidence, given that he was not far away from winning medal. “That we came close to a medal at our debut at the Olympics gives us a lot of confidence and we are happy that we performed very well at that level. Some of our riders missed the qualification given the time pressure, but in the end we were not very far from a medal and we are proud of our first performance at the Olympics,” he said.
The 2014 Asian Games gold medallist said qualifying for their maiden Olympics itself was a big achievement. “We were better prepared for Rio. It was difficult given that there were 15 nations from the Arab and African region competing to qualify for the one qualification spot. It was difficult. Even though there was a big gap of 15 points between us and the second team,” he said.
Now Sheikh Ali will be hoping he can sign off the season on a high by winning the Global Champions Tour Grand Prix of Doha on Saturday.
Meanwhile, Omar al-Mannai, Commercial Manager of Al Shaqab spoke about the importance of hosting the prestigious final event of the international calendar in Doha.
Al-Mannai said the Global Champions Tour gives Qataris a unique opportunity to experience a world class equestrian event as the country builds on its involvement in the sport.
“Qatari riders benefit to the maximum from events such as these here in Al Shaqab. We are trying to promote the level of organisation and the level of the riders and we would like to be the lighthouse of equestrian in the Arab world, and in The Gulf,” he said.
“We also want to do more not just for the riders but for all those connected with the event. It is also the first time that we have people from the Emirates and Oman participating in organisation of GCT and League. This event helps us reach the highest level of organisation,” he added.
Longines Global Champions Tour president and founder Jan Tops spoke of the significance of returning to Qatar, and Al Shaqab hosting the final event for the third year running.
“It is very special to host the final here at Al Shaqab. The facilities here are first class. It’s a beautiful arena, great stables for the horses and facilities for the grooms. To have here two riders who can win the title, and it will not be decided until the last round – it’s not often in sport you can have a final like this, but we’ll keep the suspense to the last moment for the fans around the world,” he said.
Before the Grand final on Saturday, the championship will open tomorrow with the first ever final of the Global Champions League (GCL), where one team will make history by winning the title for the first time. 12 teams will be in action to open the three days of top level equestrian sport in Doha.
Current leaders Valkenswaard United are in pole position going into the final on a total tally of 309.5 points. The combination of John Whitaker and Bertram Allen has proved formidable in the debut GCL season, and they have won an incredible three of the team’s four wins (Miami Beach, Hamburg and Vienna).
Home team Doha Fursan Qatar, who are currently in ninth position with 231 points, will be in action with Olympic rider Ali Yousef al-Rumaihi and young talent Hamad al-Attiyah to compete.
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