Spain’s Ponton Flies To Endurance World Championship, Presented by Meydan

Maria Mercedes Alvarez Ponton of Spain, riding Nobby, literally out-galloped her rivals to win the individual gold medal at the Endurance World Championships, presented by Meydan, at the 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

But HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, on Ciel Oriental, and his son, HE Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum, on SAS Alexis, sprinted through the finish line only 1:55 later to claim the silver and bronze individual medals and lead the United Arab Emirates to their first team gold medal at a World Equestrian Games.

Ponton completed the last loop at an average speed of 29.44 kilometers per hour, while her UAE competitors chased her at an average speed of 31.66 kph. Ponton’s average time throughout the 100-mile race was a speedy 21.07 kph.

Heather Reynolds of the United States started the race’s climactic loop 6 in second place, but her mount Ssamiam, could not hold off the UAE charge and finished fourth. However, officials determined that Ssamiam was not fit to continue and eliminated him at the post-finish veterinary examination. Consequently, Jean-Philippe Frances of France claimed fourth on Hanaba du Bois.

With three riders unable to complete the course because of lameness or metabolic conditions, the U.S. team did not complete the competition.

“It’s really a strange feeling, because I really wanted Sheikh Mohammed to be the World Champion,” said Ponton immediately after the race. “I think he deserves it. He’s the person doing more for this sport in the world. This sport is what it is now because of him. But I didn’t know he was behind. I thought it was the American and the French guy.”

Still, Ponton added, “I’m not going to change” medals.

Ponton, 34, and Nobby have now won three championships in the last three years—the 2008 Endurance World Championships, the 2009 European Championships, and now the World Games.

But in between her European Championship and her victory at these 2010 Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games, she gave birth to a daughter, Maria Punti-Alvarez, just seven weeks ago.

“It’s been really difficult to train and feed the baby and everything,” Ponton admitted. “Last year when I got pregnant, I thought I could do [the 2010 World Games]. But everybody kept telling me it was impossible. I feel well. It’s like it never happened, having a baby.”

Ponton’s gold medal was even sweeter because her husband, Jaume Punti-Dachs, trains Sheikh Mohammed, 60, and his sons.

Sheikh Mohammed, the prime minister of the UAE, hosted the 1998 World Championships in Dubai and regularly hosts other important endurance races. He had high praise for the course that crisscrossed the Kentucky Horse Park and crossed over numerous neighboring farms.

“I just took care of my horse. I enjoyed myself very much on this course today,” he said.

Ponton was pleased with how well Nobby, 15, handled 100 miles of the Kentucky bluegrass countryside.

“‘[The course] was really, really difficult. Really fast for me and really difficult. People say it is flat. It’s not flat at all. It was the most difficult race I’ve won with Nobby,” she said.

Total attendance for events and the opening ceremonies at the World Games on Saturday, Sept. 25, was 23,081. Today’s attendance was 12,259.

About the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games

The Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games are the world championships of eight equestrian disciplines recognized by the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI). The Games are held every four years and this will be the first occurrence in the United States. Tickets to the 2010 Games are still available and can be purchased  www.alltechfeigames.com/tickets, at  www.ticketmaster.com, through the Ticketmaster hotline at 1-800-745-3000, or at your local Ticketmaster outlet.

The Games will be broadcast on NBC Sports, which marks the largest commitment to network coverage of equestrian sport in U.S. television history. The 2010 Games are expected to have a statewide economic impact of $167 million, and current sponsors include Alltech, Rolex, John Deere, Ariat International, Inc., Meydan, Kentucky Ale, and Rood and Riddle Equine Hospital. For more information on the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games please visit, http://www.alltechfeigames.com/ www.alltechfeigames.com.