Human Rights Advocates Want Kentucky Horse Racing Panel to Ban Dubai Ruler Accused of Kidnapping Daughter

Steve Bittenbender
April 18, 2019,

Human rights activists called on the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to ban Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum from entering his horses in races at Churchill Downs, possibly including the track’s Derby week card.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and owner of horse racing stable Godolphin LLC, faces charges of kidnapping his adult daughter and holding her against her will. Human rights advocates want the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission to bar him until he releases her.

The issue stems from the Dubai ruler’s decision to prohibit his adult daughter, Princess Latifa, from leaving the United Arab Emirates and seeking asylum to the United States. The advocates claim Sheikh Mohammed ordered forces to go onboard an American flagged vessel to keep her from fleeing. They also accuse him of confining her, and they want her safe release guaranteed.

High-powered attorney Lisa Bloom and Dr. Samuel Marcosson, a professor at the University of Louisville Brandeis School of Law, filed the complaint on Monday. The two lawyers received assistance from four law students with the UofL Human Rights Advocacy Program. They cite the commission’s authority to exclude anyone from participating if they harm the sport’s integrity.

‘His conduct in violating human rights through kidnapping his own daughter against her will renders him ineligible to participate in horse racing activities’

-Complaint to Kentucky Horse Racing Commission

Sheikh Mohammed is a prominent member of the thoroughbred racing community. Godolphin LLC, his horse racing venture, has won more than 5,000 races around the world. The stable also won the 2010 Eclipse Award for the top North American owner.

Impact of Proposed Ban

A suspension levied on Sheikh Mohammed not only would affect him, but it also would affect his staff and his horses at all Kentucky tracks.

No horse from Godolphin qualified for this year’s Kentucky Derby. However, it does have a filly, Flor de La Mar, positioned to run in the May 3 Kentucky Oaks.

Considered one of the top races for 3-year-old fillies, the Oaks draws crowds of more than of 100,000 on Derby Eve. Last year’s Oaks Day card pulled a handle of $55.8 million from all sources, with $17.5 million of that solely bet on the stakes race. Both were race records.

In addition, Churchill Downs features several other graded stakes races during Derby Week that could attract the Sheikh’s horses.

The KHRC held its bi-monthly meeting on Tuesday, and the commission did not act on the complaint. A call to the commission on Wednesday was not returned.

With just two weeks before the Oaks, Marcosson told they understand a hearing on the matter may not happen in time to take effect before the state’s biggest racing weekend. However, they consider any action taken at any time as important.

‘It would both shine the spotlight on Princess Latifa’s status and raise pressure on Sheikh Mohammed to release her. The timing is not as important as a positive result.’

-Professor Samuel A. Marcosson

Marcosson added the group may also consider asking racing commissions in other states and countries to sanction Sheikh Mohammed.

Latest Racing Controversy

A representative from Godolphin’s office in Lexington, Ky., told they would not comment on the charges.

The accusations against one of the sport’s most prolific owners come at a time when the sport faces increased scrutiny. Specifically, animal welfare groups and some politicians have called for racing to stop at Santa Anita after the deaths of 23 horses during the California track’s current meet.

In response, Santa Anita’s owner has proposed stricter regulations on drug and safety protocols to improve safety. The Stronach Group also supports federal legislation that would require national drug testing and safety standards for the sport.

Still, some question whether Santa Anita’s track is safe after months of record rainfalls and unusually cold weather. The California Horse Racing Board will meet Thursday to discuss whether to cut dates from the track.