His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum’s love of horses is renowned. Descended from one of the most notable tribes in Arabia, Bani Yas, horses have been part of his life since childhood. His Highness, born on July 15, 1949 is the third son of H.H. Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum.
Bedouin culture and traditions are central to his heritage. The desert is a challenging, often harsh, environment so the ability to live in harmony with nature is vital to the people of the region. As a boy, Sheikh Mohammed learned to read the desert sands, to identify a single camel’s footprint in a herd of hundreds and to understand the rhythm of nature so as to be at one with the creatures of the desert.
Apart from tracking and catching scorpions and snakes, taming and training falcons and saluki dogs, it was horses that took up most of the young Sheikh’s time. He would share his breakfast with his horse on his way to school. Riding in his first horse race aged just 12, the Sheikh was drawn like a magnet to difficult horses and earned a reputation for mastering impossibly wild horses, considered un-trainable by others.
Sheikh Mohammed was nine when Sheikh Saeed, his grandfather and Ruler of Dubai, to whom he was particularly close, sadly died. The new Ruler, Sheikh Mohammed’s father, Sheikh Rashid, began to prepare his sons to serve their country and in August of 1966 Sheikh Mohammed travelled to Cambridge, England to study. In Cambridge, he stayed with an English family where horseracing and its history were often discussed. Sheikh Mohammed liked to tell his hosts that the most influential sire in British racing was an Arabian horse named the Godolphin Arabian.
Over 40 years later, Sheikh Mohammed, now the UAE Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, is the inspiration and driving force behind Godolphin, which he has developed into the world’s leading international horseracing entity.
Sheikh Mohammed and his brother, Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, went to their first horse race in England on May 3, 1967, where they saw Royal Palace win the British mile Classic, the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket. Ten years later, Sheikh Mohammed’s own involvement with international racing began with the filly Hatta, who gave the owner his first success at Brighton, England, on June 20, 1977, and went on to land the Group Three Molecomb Stakes at Goodwood the following month.
The decade in between that defining visit to Newmarket and Hatta’s initial success was full of challenges. A federation between Dubai and Abu Dhabi was first discussed and Sheikh Mohammed returned to England where he graduated from Mons Officer Cadet School with the sword of honour and the highest marks of any international officer in his intake. Upon his return home, he was assigned his first public position, Head of the Dubai Police and Public Security. In 1971, the United Arab Emirates was formed and Sheikh Mohammed was appointed Minister of Defence, becoming the youngest such minister in the world.
Away from his many public duties, Sheikh Mohammed’s passion for horses grew into a major investment in bloodstock and his famous maroon and white colours were carried to countless Group One victories around the globe. His brilliant filly, Pebbles, won the 1985 Breeders’ Cup Turf in America, the same year that Oh So Sharp took her place in history by winning the British fillies’ Triple Crown of 1,000 Guineas, Oaks and St Leger.
Other champions to carry his colours included Diminuendo, Indian Skimmer, Belmez, Old Vic, Opera House, Carnegie, Pennekamp and Singspiel. While Sheikh Mohammed’s personal colours are still seen on racetracks around the world, these days it is the royal blue silks of Godolphin with which he is most readily associated.
In 1992, Sheikh Mohammed defied convention and, with his innate understanding of nature, took the revolutionary step of moving some of his horses from the chilly English winter to the warmth of Dubai, echoing the migration of birds to a warmer climate for the winter months. The results were spectacular and the seeds from which Godolphin would emerge had been sown.
The horses blossomed in the warm winter sun and the new venture recorded its intitial Group One triumph when Balanchine gave Godolphin a first Classic success in the Oaks at Epsom Downs, England, in 1994.
With Sheikh Mohammed making the key decisions, Godolphin has since given the sport of horseracing some truly breathtaking performers - Lammtarra, Daylami, Fantastic Light, Street Cry, Sulamani, Dubawi and Ramonti among them.
Godolphin’s greatest horse, and Sheikh Mohammed’s personal favourite, was the magnificent Dubai Millennium, who won nine of his 10 starts including a stunning victory in the world’s richest race, the Dubai World Cup, in 2000 - a race Sheikh Mohammed named him to win.
Sheikh Mohammed’s visionary approach prompted the inauguration of the Dubai World Cup in 1996, which drew the best dirt horse in the world, the mighty US champion Cigar, to the desert. Dubai World Cup day in late March is now one of international racing’s glittering showpiece events, worth over US$27 million and run at the stunning Meydan racecourse.
While tirelessly working to develop Dubai, the United Arab Emirates and the wider Arabian region, H.H. Sheikh Mohammed’s global vision and ambition is also evident in his passion for horses.
From the outset, he insisted that Godolphin’s outlook should be global - the stable has won Group/Grade One races in an amazing 12 countries. Sheikh Mohammed has been a leading buyer at the principal yearling sales around the world while developing a massive breeding operation, Darley, around the globe, spearheaded by Dalham Hall Stud in Newmarket and including major stallion farms in Ireland, America, Australia and Japan.
Sheikh Mohammed’s unique contribution to the racing industry was recognised at the 2008 Cartier Awards where he received the Award of Merit.
For further information on H.H. Sheikh Mohammed, visit www.sheikhmohammed.com
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