Horseracing body urged to review sheikh’s status

Martyn Ziegler and Rob Wright
March 6, 2020, The Times

The regulatory body of British horseracing has been urged to review whether it allows the ruler of Dubai to race his horses in the UK after a senior judge found that he kidnapped two of his daughters and left one of his wives in fear for her life.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, a billionaire and friend of the Queen, owns hundreds of horses in Britain through his Godolphin operation.

Yesterday Sheikh Mohammed, 70, was accused in court of having used “the state and its apparatus to threaten, intimidate, mistreat and oppress with a total disregard for the rule of law”. The High Court judgment found that he had “not been open and honest with the court”.

The legal battle began after the ruler’s former wife, Princess Haya bint al-Hussein, fled to her £75 million mansion in west London with his two youngest children last year.

Racehorse owners have to obtain registration from the British Horseracing Authority and the ownership guidelines state “considerations include the applicant’s honesty and integrity”. The BHA declined to comment but if an owner breaches the guidelines after being previously registered, the organisation can take steps to re-assess their suitability to remain as an owner.

Jo Stevens, the Labour MP for Cardiff Central who sits on the digital, culture, media and sport committee, said the BHA should now investigate the case.

She said: “Given the ownership guidelines refer to honesty and integrity, it would be my expectation that the governing body should be proactively looking at the ownership registration without anyone having to point it out to them.”

Godolphin’s biggest base is in Newmarket, where the sheikh owns large swathes of property, including studs and training stables. Godolphin has two trainers in Newmarket — Saeed Bin Suroor and Charlie Appleby — who work solely for the Dubai operation and they also have a handful of horses with other trainers.

Godolphin also has bases in Dubai, Australia, France, Ireland, Japan and the United States. Exact numbers of horses in their ownership are not known, but in Britain last year 233 horses raced in their blue silks, winning 157 races and around £3.3 million in prize money. Since many horses do not make the racecourse, that suggests Godolphin have in excess of 300 horses in training in Britain alone, plus many more at their stud farms.

Horses owned by Godolphin have won most of the world’s biggest races, and the operation has long been one of the biggest spenders at thoroughbred sales around the world. The Godolphin operation as a whole will have cost Sheikh Mohammed hundreds of millions of pounds.

The sheikh has been involved in several controversies involving racing. A keen competitor in endurance racing, where horses compete over distances of up to 100 miles, in 2009 he was banned for six months by the International Equestrian Federation, the FEI, following two positive dope tests on his horses.

Princess Haya was the FEI president at the time and recused herself from any involvement in the investigation.

In 2013, 15 racehorses trained for Sheikh Mohammed by Mahmood al-Zarooni in Newmarket tested positive to steroids and the trainer was banned for eight years. The Sheikh said he “appalled and angered” by Al Zarooni’s actions.