Shaikh Mansour Racing Festival made a successful debut in Hungary.
Slovenia's Helena Okorn was in a class of her own as she stormed to victory in the Shaikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Horse Flat Racing Festival-supported FEI Central European Endurance Cup 2016 international 120-km endurance ride held in Babolna, Hungary, on Saturday.
Riding HS Ebla, a horse she has owned for 9 years, Okorn made it a winning debut in this historic Arabian horse breeding town while Polish rider Wojciech Heliasz on Sinda finished second and French rider Marion Wasilewski took third place on Quernika Du Cade.
Earlier in the morning, competitors took off in five different competitions, all international FEI rides with riders from France, Poland, Austria, Czech Rep, Romania, Croatia, China, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Serbia and the host country Hungary in action.
All five rides were held as part of the festival under directions of Shaikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs.
Okorn and HS Elba almost made it a start-to-finish affair as they led in three of the four stages though before the final stage of 20-kms, just a minute separated the winner and the second-placed Polish rider.
"There was only one minute difference between me and the rider in second place when we went for the final 20 kms but my horse HS Ebla was too good and did not let me down," the 35-year-old Slovenian said. "I am very happy with the result. The last time I took part in a Festival race, it was the Shaikha Fatima Ladies Cup in Verona and I finished 25th but today to win this event is a great achievement for my horse. This is the first time I took part in this race here in Babolna and my horse which lost a 160-km race by one second last year was in very good condition. I have had him for 9 years and he is 15 now," said Okorn, who manages her father's construction business.
"My dream is to ride in a world championship but in a country like Slovenia we don't have that many races and it is a difficult task to qualify. I have a good horse but I need to finish in four events and maybe the FEI should relax it for riders from countries like ours," Okorn urged.
Polish rider Wojciech, who finished second said, "This is the first time I ever took part in a Two Star 120-km event. Though I could have gone for a win in the final stage, my aim was to just complete the ride. My main target is the Polish National Championship in September in Poland and I want to win that."
In the other endurance rides held on Saturday, Austrian Julia Klein on Toison D'Or Larzac won the 120-km international Two-star ride for Junior and Young Riders; Hungary's Alexa Perlaky on Bariz B won the CEI One Star 80km ride and Slovakia's Csaba Szabo on Siglavy Bagdady won the CEI One star 80-km ride for juniors. Ferenc Szepe, head of department at Hungary's Ministry of Agriculture; Balazs Berci, Babolna Stud Director; Adnan Sultan Al Nuaimi, ADEC Director General; and Lara Sawaya, Executive Director of the Shaikh Mansour Bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Horse Flat Racing Festival, Chairperson of the International Federation of Horse Racing Academies (IFHRA), Chairperson of Ladies & Apprentice Racing Committees in the International Federation of Arabian Horse Racing Authorities (IFAHR), gave away the trophies to the winners of the various rides.
Babolna Stud Director Balazs Berci said, "The Shaikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan Global Arabian Horse Flat Racing Festival's support has lifted this event which we have been staging here for over 13 years now. This year we have managed to get an increase in participants to about 80 and after the success with the help of the Festival and the publicity, we are now looking to cross 100 next year."