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14 April 2024

Staying ahead of the game at all times

Sheikh Mohammed is an accomplished rider. (EB FILE)

By John McAuley

His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, says on his official website: "A love for horses runs in my blood. Don't forget that horses have been bred for centuries by Arabic tribes, they were used for hunting and fishing and they symbolise our history.

"Horse riding is more than merely sitting on a horse's back. It is nobility and chivalry."

The statement gives an insight into why Sheikh Mohammed has become one of the most influential men in horseracing, the royal blue of his Godolphin stables synonymous with nobility, innovation and success.

Having been taught how to ride by his father, Sheikh Rashid, Sheikh Mohammed's passion for equestrianism was stoked from an early age, cultivated by his studies in Cambridge and cemented on his first visit to a horse race in 1967.

Few would have expected then that, after watching Royal Palace win the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, Sheikh Mohammed would be celebrating his first success almost 10 years to the day later, when his fine filly Hatta was first past the post in Brighton.

The maroon and white colours of Sheikh Mohammed's first batch of leading horses were now seen winning a plethora of Group One races around the world: Pebbles triumphed at the much-vaunted Breeders' Cup Turf in America in 1985, Oh So Sharp won the illustrious Triple Crown in Britain the same year, while Diminuendo, Indian Skimmer and Carnegie landed a collection of other major prizes. Sheikh Mohammed further illustrated his understanding of the fundamentals of racing in 1992, when he took the innovative step of transporting horses to Dubai during the English winter, where they could maximise their training under the warmth of Arabian sun.

His bold decision was vindicated only two years later, when Balanchine landed a first Group One victory for the newly named Godolphin stable with a fantastic ride at the Epsom Oaks. Another victory, this time at the Irish Derby was quickly placing the his new enterprise at the forefront of the racing world.

Many others have followed Balanchine's lead: Daylami, Fantastic Light, Ramonti, Dubai Millennium to name but a few.

All have underscored Sheikh Mohammed's adroitness in grooming the sport's great champions and he is ably assisted by four-time British Trainers' Championship winner Saeed bin Suroor. Dubai Millennium is perhaps the finest success story, conqueror of nine of his first 10 races and the 2000 Dubai World Cup champion after the colt cut through a high-class field to gift his proud owner victory in his home meet.

World's richest race

The Dubai World Cup – the world's richest horse race – had been established by Sheikh Mohammed at Nad Al Sheba four years earlier, in line with his vision of strengthening the emirate as major power on the sporting stage.

The meet moves to the newly constructed Meydan for the first time in March, when Dubai is again expected to play host to some of the finest thoroughbreds. Expect the royal blue of Godolphin to be prevalent, as Darley, the Sheikh's breeding operation, continues to nurture future champions. There have been 87 in all, winning 159 Group or Grade One races in 12 different countries. As of today, Godolphin is recognised as the world's foremost international horseracing enterprise – signifying that a love of horses does truly run in Sheikh Mohammed's blood.

Endurance championships

Sheikh Mohammed may be an astute breeder of horses, but he is also an accomplished rider. He has secured numerous major endurance titles, captaining the UAE national team to victory in the European Championship in Spain and Portugal in 1999 before leading his side to retain the trophy two years later. When the tournament switched to Ireland in 2003, Sheikh Mohammed again rode to victory, spearheading the Emirate's claim of housing the best endurance racers in the world.

His enthusiasm has permeated through the royal family, with his sons Sheikh Rashid and Sheikh Hamdan spending a year each on top of the world rankings in 1999 and 2000, while Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed became the youngest to win the World Endurance Championship in 2002.

Sheikh Majid bin Mohammed has also joined the senior circuit and has been a valuable member of the country's European Championship team.

Their success should come as no surprise as they have learnt from the best. Endurance racing promotes a strong understanding between horse and rider and Sheikh Mohammed has proved himself to be a master strategist and great reader of a horse's condition. In the past decade, he has won major titles from Egypt to Ireland and from Spain to Syria. He participated in the Dubai Giants Endurance Championship last month.

Other sports

Sheikh Mohammed continues to offer his support to UAE sport and has played a vital role in positioning Dubai as one of the world's major sporting destinations.

Some of the main events include the Dubai Desert Classic, now almost 21-year-old, which blazed a trail for professional golf in the region and is part of the European Tour's celebrated Desert Swing.

The Dubai Ladies Masters, the new Race to Dubai and the season-ending Dubai World Championship further emphasise the emirate's importance in the game of golf today.

The International Cricket Council has its headquarters in Dubai Sports City (DSC), a purpose-built development that houses the DSC Cricket Stadium, which hosted its first match in April last year.


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