Dubai Dragons go into Friday’s AFL Middle East League final bidding to capture a seventh title in eight years when they face Multiplex Bulls at the Sevens Stadium.
This is a repeat of last year’s decider which Dragons won in clinical fashion, but Bulls have grown in confidence and look a more composed outfit since their maiden season in 2015.
Both sides have tasted victory over each other in recent months; the Dragons prevailed by three points in round one, but the Bulls atoned in January, winning by 13 points in round five of the league.
If the Dragons can attain the same level of dominance around the middle, they will be hard to handle.
With Travis Hayward and Spencer Whittaker pulling the strings from deep, they have the opportunity to unleash the significant qualities of Daniel Gribbin in attack.
Dragons coach Chris Burke is relishing the prospect of clinching a four successive title, telling Sport360: “It has been a successful year on the back of solid preseason and the addition of a number of new recruits into the club.
“The Bulls showed lots of strengths in round five, the narrow defeat fuelling the fire for our boys to regain the loss of the minor premiership by throwing absolutely everything at it this weekend.
“There is a lot of energy around the club and Tuesday’s training has us very excited leading into the showdown Friday.”
This should be an enthralling, wide open game, with Nathan Holly’s Bulls sure to be resilient as they go in search of a first crown after four consecutive Grand Final defeats.
In many ways they have looked a more effective team this season, hammering Abu Dhabi Falcons and Dubai Dragons by a staggering average of 102 points in recent matches.
In Ted Stobart, Bulls have a key player who can pose a threat with and without the ball.
Holly said: “The season so far has been the Bulls strongest to date, taking out the pre-season cup in Bahrain and then to finish top of the ladder at the end of the season we truly believe that this year is the year of the Bull.
“With having a squad that are fully fit and as eager as ever to right the wrongs of the previous years, we’ve had phenomenal numbers to every training session in the lead up to Friday’s grand final which is great for all involved at the Bullpen.”
The UAE’s Salim Khamis Al Suwaidi and 22-year-old ‘Espresso’ of the Sharjah Equestrian & Racing Club led the 12th week’s main event of the Emirates Longines Show Jumping League competitions, which included 13 rounds and saw the participation of a significant number of riders of all levels from clubs and equestrian centres around the UAE.
The competition was held at Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting & Golf Club under the directives of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Executive Council Member and Chairman of Al Ain Equestrian Club. As the competitions came to an end, Al Ain Equestrian, Shooting & Golf Club fulfilled its share of hosting competitions during this jumping season, which included three weekly competitions and two international competitions – the first of which was a CSI2-star show and the second was the CSI3-star W Al Ain International Show Jumping Championship World Cup Qualifier, both of which were held last December.
Al Suwaidi’s victory for UAE…
Salim Al Suwaidi was successful in winning the final competition of the Al Ain National, which wrapped up the club’s jumping programme for this season. The competition saw the participation of 33 Division 1 riders who were all jumping a course made of 140cm jumps. Ten riders were able to reach the final round but only nine rode without faults, led by Al Suwaidi who finished the final round with a timing of (38.88) seconds. Second place was awarded to fellow club member, Syria’s Chadi Gharib, and ‘Taiwan Du Landey’ who completed the final round in (42.71) seconds. The third place was awarded to João Maria Marquilhas and ‘Glamour ES’ of Al Hamra Equestrian Centre, who finished with a timing of (43.46) seconds.
France wins 1st Division 1 competition of One Round with Jump Off
The other Division 1 competition, a One Round with Jump Off with jumps set at 135cm, saw the participation of 26 riders, five of whom succeeded in moving onto the jump off. France’s Frederic David and ‘Levita VD Bisschop’ of Al Asayl Stables successfully rode a clear round with the best time of (42.52) seconds and secured first place. Second place was awarded to Iran’s Farhang Sadeghi with ‘W Piccolini’ of The Sustainable City Equestrian Club who completed the final in (43.84) seconds. Third place was awarded to young Emirati rider, Omar Abdul Aziz Al Marzooqi, and ‘Coral Beach’ of Al Shira’aa Stables who completed the round with the very fast time of (40.47) seconds, but with four faults.
Emirati Salim Ahmed and ‘Snapp Jack’ win Division 1 Two Phases
In the Division 1 Two Phases competition with jumps placed at a height of 125cm, 20 riders participated. The two phases were completed without faults by 11 riders, led by the UAE’s Salim Ahmed Al Suwaidi with ‘Snapp Jack’ of the Sharjah Equestrian & Racing Club who finished the second phase with a time of (48.78) seconds. The second place was held by Saudi’s Sulaiman Alanbar with ‘Quintella’ of Al Abadla Stables, completing the second phase in (50.52) seconds, with third going to the young Emirati rider, Humaid Abdullah Al Muhairi and ‘Gaudi Equigenne” of Al-Shira’aa Stables with a time of (51.88) seconds.
Greece’s Natsis Wins Division 1 Special Two Phases Competition
40 riders participated in the Division 1 Special Two Phases, which was the final class on the first day of the National (Friday. Jumps were set at 135cm and only nine riders were able to complete both phases without faults. Greek rider Dimitrios Natsis with ‘Calista De La Hart’ of the Sharjah Equestrian & Racing Club, completed the second phase with a timing of (32.56) seconds and won first place with the UAE’s Mohammed Shafi Al Remeithi and 11-year-old ‘Puck’ from the Emirates Heritage Club securing second place with a time of (32.85) seconds. Third place went to Farhang Sadeghi and his horse W Piccolini.
Team UAE continued their fine form as the Julius Baer Gold Cup final delivered a classic. Fans were treated to entertaining polo that didn’t disappoint the spectators at the Al Habtoor Polo Resort and Club.
A flag presentation by the Al Habtoor Riding School marked the start of the afternoon followed by the Bentley Subsidiary Final with Dubai Wolves competed against Zedan Polo team. The Wolves came in strong with the lead on the first chukker, which Zedan matched with goals on the second that led to a tie 3-3. Zedan charged further and stretched the gap with subsequent goals from Santiago Laborde and Raul Laplacette.
Manuel Crespo and Yousef Bin Desmal from Dubai Wolves evened out the advantage by the end of the fourth chukker. The last one had seen the teams in a tight game, each battling to take home the win. Zedan closed the match with a one-goal lead and claimed the Bentley Cup 2019 title and trophy.
Prior to the highly anticipated face-off between Habtoor Polo and UAE Polo teams, the crowd was treated to a performance by the Dubai Police Marching band followed by the UAE National Anthem. A display of fine Bentley Cars accompanied the teams for their presentation. The first chukker showed an even performance from both teams, which ended at 3 – 2 in favour of UAE Polo. The team kept increasing its goal advantage with a series of goals until half time, notably from Tomas Panelo. The Habtoor team came back with three goals from Facundo Sola and Tommy Beresford before the fourth chukker was finished at 9-6. Facu managed to deliver two more goals at the last chukker but was not enough as the UAE Polo team went on to win 10–8.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Maktoum bin Rashid al Maktoum graced the afternoon and awarded the winners of the Julius Baer Gold Cup 2019. Trevor Weller, Director – Prestige Division of Bentley Emirates joined him on the stage to award the Bentley Cup runner up – Dubai Wolves and the winners – Zedan Polo Team. For the final awardees, Régis Burger, Head Middle East of Julius Baer (Middle East) Ltd., joined the stage to give the awards to the runner up of the Julius Baer Gold Cup 2019 final – Habtoor Polo – and the champions – UAE Polo Team. Alejandro Muzzio was awarded the Most Valuable Player and Milly, the horse he rode, was named the Best Playing Pony.