Horse Trading

Issue 1503
August 23, 2019, Private Eye

Still no word in the Racing Post about the legal showdown between the biggest moneybags in British horse racing, Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed, and his estranged wife, Princess Haya.

As the last Eye noted, Sheikh Mohammed still owns the title of the Racing Post, even if the business itself is no longer his. Might this explain why the Post‘s chief executive and former editor Alan Byrne — who has also been a consultant to Sheikh Mohammed for many years — is ensuring the paper’s silence on the subject? Perish the thought. The official line is that “it isn’t really a racing story”.

Really? When news emerged earlier this summer that Princess Haya had fled the marital home in Dubai, the sheikh quietly had himself listed as owner of some horses in Newmarket that are registered in her name — but he was then forced by the racing authorities to hand them back.

The first clue came on 29 June, when the registered ownership of the three-year-old Promissory was transferred from Princess Haya to “HH Sheikha Al Jalila Racing” — ie the couple’s 11-year-old daughter, who has had a small string of racehorses in the UK since 2017. On 2 July Promissory changed owner again — this time to Godolphin, the huge racing and breeding operation controlled by the girl’s dad. But Princess Haya got her horse back one day later, just in time for Promissory to race and win in her colours at Doncaster on 5 July.

There were similar toings-and-froings for several of the princess’s thoroughbreds that had been entered for races in early July, just after the marriage blew up. Thus on 3 July Godolphin claimed ownership of Turgenev, only for Princess Haya to claim it back on 5 July. It was also on 3 July that Godolphin took Emblazoned: this arrangement lasted for all of five days before she regained ownership. Duneflower was taken by the sheikh on 5 July but returned to his wife on 9 July — and won for her two days later at Doncaster.

Clearly not a racing story, then. Although the Racing Post refused to cover this bizarre equine tug-of-war, readers could at least guess something was afoot by studying the small print of its online database of owners. But they would only twig what lay behind it if they read other newspapers, which reported later in July that Princess Haya had applied to the high court in London for a non-molestation order against her husband. Rejecting an application by Sheikh Mohammed for reporting restrictions, presiding judge Sir Andrew McFarlane ruled that “there is a public interest”. The racing industry’s daily newspaper thinks otherwise.