Sheikh Mohammed: Becoming synonymous with horse racing around the world
Few individuals have played such an important role in sport around the world as HH Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum - be it as a competitor, owner, sponsor and/or patron.
A highly successful endurance rider himself, he is one of the world’s leading thoroughbred owner/breeders and the name of his Darley breeding enterprise is carried by many big races the world over, such as the Darley Irish Oaks which his Godolphin operation won with Blue Bunting this year.
That race is on The Curragh where horses are exercised daily on the Old Vic gallop, named after Sheikh Mohammed’s 1989 Irish Derby winner. After that victory, the horse’s owner kindly donated the prize money to pay for the gallop to aid the Curragh-based trainers.
Likewise, after the 9/11 tragedy in New York, he and his family donated all prize money won by their horses at the 2001 Breeder’s Cup.
Similarly, neither his own famous maroon silks or the Godolphin blue have ever won flat racing’s Blue Riband, the Epsom Derby, but he bought New Approach to carry the colours of his wife HRH Princess Haya. He won the race in 2008.
Closer to home, at Meydan, he hosts the world’s best racehorses, trainers and jockeys at the world’s richest horse race, the $10million Dubai World Cup, the culmination of the world-acclaimed Dubai International Racing Carnival. This is all part of his drive to promote Dubai through sport, thus the generous sponsorships by the likes of Dubai Duty Free and Emirates.
Colm McLoughlin, the managing director of Dubai Duty Free, explains: “It was way back in 1988 that His Highness encouraged us to sponsor sport competitions to put Dubai’s name on the map.
“Snooker, power boats, rugby, tennis and horse racing are among those we have supported and we still sponsor a $5million race on Dubai World Cup night as well as the Irish Derby.
“He realised just how popular sport is around the world and recognised it as a good way to promote Dubai as a city. And it has been a big success.”
Sheikh Mohammed has owned and bred some of the world’s best racehorses, arguably highlighted by his all-time favourite, the 2000 Dubai World Cup winner Dubai Millennium.
Again, he has used racing to promote his country and Godolphin racing manager Simon Crisford explains: “He has always been a visionary and was determined to have his horses prepared for Europe in Dubai over the winter. He knew it would work when others doubted him. He was proved right as the results showed.
“We now also have the world’s richest horse race in Dubai, which is staged at the world’s most iconic racecourse. The world’s awareness of Dubai has grown substantially through the exploits of Godolphin and the racing in the UAE.”
The look of pride on Sheikh Mohammed’s face when Meydan opened was evident to the world watching on television and he still speaks with great pleasure when asked about Meydan, another one of his visions.
A few weeks ago he won a prestigious endurance race at Euston Park in the UK to complete his third win in 2011 and second in Europe, having also won in Italy. He also won a big event at Dubai Endurance City just before the Dubai World Cup.
And last September, he led the UAE team to a famous victory and gold medal at the FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky, USA. He won an individual silver as he had also done in 2004, but did not nominate himself as a team member.
At the time, he said: “The victory is yet another in series of titles won by UAE riders at international equestrian championships, beginning with the fourth place achieved by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum in the individual championships in 1998. It is a great run of achievements and I am proud to see my two sons (Sheikh Hamdan and Sheikh Majid) in the team.’’
The team were defending the title they had won in Malaysia in 2008 and Emmett Ross, the discipline manager for endurance at the games, said: “He’s made the sport of endurance what it is today. He provided the funding to transport horses and provide accommodation and cars at the first true World Championships in 1998 and, from there, an industry was born.”
Leading American rider, Jeremy Reynolds, added: “He is really creating an industry for us and allowing people like myself to make this a profession by selling horses and training horses for others. I am a farrier initially, but now coach as well.
“It used to just be a back-yard sport but he has long made it known that he would like it to be an Olympic sport. Since the UAE and, in particular, Sheikh Mohammed, got involved, it’s blossomed into this huge international deal.
“Many years ago, my wife was racing in the UAE and my car broke down. Sheikh Mohammed stopped and lent us a car with driver, before helping unload cases of water from our stricken vehicle into the replacement. He really enjoys the sport, be it competing or watching.”
And how true that is; even if not competing he is normally on hand to support his friends and family and we can expect much more glory - both in the endurance and racing worlds.
Champion UK owner on nine occasions (prior to advent of Godolphin who have won it seven times).
Singspiel won 1997 Dubai World Cup in his maroon silks, while Godolphin have won race on four occasions.
Individual European Championship gold in Ireland in 2003.
Individual silver medal World Championships 2004 and 2010.
Led UAE to team gold medal at European Championships in 1999 and 2001.
Mentored UAE team to win gold at World Championships 2008 and 2010.