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Wednesday, 6 February, 2002, 04:08 GMT
Man to race horse in desert
desert in UAE
Much of the UAE is featureless desert
By the BBC's Julia Wheeler in Dubai

In the United Arab Emirates, one of America's leading long distance runners is challenging a top endurance race horse, Al-Barraq, to a contest over 80 kilometres (50 miles) on Wednesday.

endurance horse race in UAE
Desert heat takes its toll on horses in endurance races
The race between man and horse is believed to be the first of its kind in the Middle East, where endurance horse racing is becoming increasingly popular.

An Arabian endurance horse like Al-Barraq might be expected to trot and canter across 80 km of desert terrain in about five hours.

But rules about the fair treatment of horses in endurance competitions dictate that Al-Barraq must have two 40-minute breaks for food and water during the race, and that is where the American runner Tom Johnson hopes to make up his time.

Johnson will be eating and drinking on the run - giving him effectively an 80-minute head start.

Johnson, 42, takes part in long distance runs of 80, 100 and 160 km around the world. He has competed against fellow human runners in South Africa, China, Japan and Switzerland and he holds the North American record for running 100 km. It took him six and a half hours.

Al-Barraq came in among the first 20 in endurance racing's World Cup last year.

The desert course at Al Wathba, near Abu Dhabi, has been specially chosen to test both man and beast. Al-Barraq's rider, Jennifer Nice, says her two-legged opponent will have the advantage on the uphill sections of the course but on the flat, four legs will be a benefit.

Both she and Johnson believe it is going to be a close-run thing.

See also:

30 Jan 02 | Horse Racing
Record entry for Dubai World Cup
28 Dec 01 | Country profiles
Country profile: United Arab Emirates
19 May 00 | Middle East
Dubai royals dominate endurance race
04 Jun 00 | Wales
Man beats horse in race
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