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Why the Dubai Royals Traveled to Saudi Arabia for the Tantora Winter Festival

Sheikh Hamdan and Sheikh Mohammed embracing at Al Ula. Photo: Instagram/@khalifasaeed

Since horse riding is an integral part of Emirati culture and the UAE is home to the internationally renowned Dubai World Cup⁠—the world’s richest day of horse racing⁠—it should come as no surprise that Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed is a gold-medalist equestrian. The latest display of this talent appeared over the weekend at a strenuous race in the desert landscape of Saudi Arabia, in which the Crown Prince of Dubai not only competed at the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup but also emerged triumphantly.

“For the Kingdom…thanks from the heart,” wrote the Crown Prince of Dubai on Instagram.

“Our joy in visiting the Kingdom and meeting our loved ones today is greater than the joy of winning,” wrote Sheikh Mohammed. Photo: Instagram/@hhshkmohd

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Spanning 120km over shifting dunes and staggering mountain peaks in the Al Ula province, the arduous race welcomed over 200 riders from 17 countries vying for the winning title and an AED 14.69 million jackpot. Yet, it was Sheikh Hamdan who rode to victory after more than four and a half hours. Even though the Crown Prince was competing on behalf of the UAE, he donned the flag and colors of the Kingdom on his shirt and helmet in a display of solidarity between the two Arab nations.

HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, who accompanied his son to the race and could be seen cheering him on from the sidelines, reiterated the sentiment of Emirati-Saudi unity on social media. “Our joy in visiting the Kingdom and meeting our loved ones today is greater than the joy of winning,” wrote the Ruler. “May God preserve love and brotherhood.”

Sheikh Hamdan racing to victory at the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Endurance Cup in Saudi Arabia. Photo: Instagram/@faz3

The Cup is just one of the many cultural events occurring in the Winter at Tantora festival amidst the rocky terrain of Al Ula. Running until March 7, the second edition of the heritage festival will be hosting a series of musical concerts, art installations, sporting competitions, fashion exhibitions, and more in what is widely regarded as one of the most naturally beautiful places in the region. From listening to American balladist Lionel Richie and Latin pop sensation Enrique Iglesias to soaring above the action in a hot air balloon or a vintage airplane, every day is a new adventure throughout the three months. Festivalgoers can dine at one of the many famous pop-ups serving curated menus in exclusive settings, such as London’s members-only club Annabel’s or the Awna dining concept that invites different international Michelin-starred chefs every weekend.

“Festival visitors will be given a unique opportunity to visit and experience one of the world’s undiscovered places and its spectacular heritage sites before we reopen them to the world in October 2020,” said Royal Commission for Al Ula chief executive Amr Al Madani in a statement.

As part of the overarching Vision 2030 blueprint Saudi Arabia launched a few years ago, Winter at Tantora is yet another step closer to helping the Kingdom achieve its ambitious goals of transforming the Middle Eastern nation into a “vibrant society” that attracts visitors from all over the world.

Sheikh Mohammed watching Sheikh Hamdan compete in the strenuous race. Photo: Instagram/@hhshkmohd

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