The ruler of Dubai transformed the bloodstock industry in Britain and has been generous to the country through difficult times
Most of us have learnt a lot about ourselves and a good deal about others this year. If we didn’t realise it before, we now know that there are two ways of reacting to a crisis.
The first is to feel one’s own pain, which is perfectly natural. We’ve been programmed by nature to survive. And that is why our first instinct should be to protect ‘the home’.
The second, however, is to try and help others. Not just our family and friends, but people we’re never even going to meet. And gratifyingly it turns out that the world is a nicer place than I would have predicted.
This year has often been about realising who our friends really are, not only as individuals but as a country. And no star on that front has shone brighter than that of Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
The Sheikh has recently been involved in an acrimonious custody battle with one of his wives which was heard in the London courts and involved allegations that he had caused two of his daughters to be abducted. The judge invited the Sheikh to “review his position in order to address the concerns identified”.
Last May, however, our country was in dire straits and we saw a
different side. We had all but run out of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) for the National Health Service. So Sheikh Mohammed sent three planes carrying a personal gift of 60 tons of PPE to the NHS.
In the same month the Sheikh sent food and PPE to the amazing Felix Project in London, which continues to provide millions of healthy food packages to the destitute in the capital.
The Big Issue also received a donation of care products for their vendors who were struggling, as did the charity Family Action.
What is outstanding about the Sheikh’s support of our country is that there is nothing calculated about his generosity. Some might expect him to support 500 school children in three schools around Newmarket, because the failing schools are where his horses are based.
But since King Charles and Nell Gwynn made the town their bolthole, no other racehorse owner has stepped in with such an act of philanthropy. We shouldn’t take it for granted.
As for the Methodist chapel in Godolphin Cross, that he saved for the Cornish villagers near Helston: there was nothing parochial about that act of kindness. In desperation the villagers wrote to the Sheikh when the church was selling off the only public space in their community. And he bought it for them.
These examples merely scratch the surface of this man’s generosity. And having spent weeks trying to research this, I can assure you that he does not wear it on his sleeve. Quite the opposite, actually.
What has been strategic in the Sheikh’s life, however, is his support for horse racing in this country.
Phillip Freedman, whose Cliveden Stud bred Derby winner Reference Point, reminded me this week of the historical contribution Sheikh Mohammed has made.
“He [and his brothers] reversed a decline in the quality of British breeding and racing which had begun before the war. In the 1970’s he joined Robert Sangster and John Magnier buying stock in America to race in Europe.
“The imports reversed the decline in British and European breeding and racing; which is why our racing is now regarded as the best in the world. Until then the best potential stallions were getting exported to the USA and Japan.”
Sheikh Mohammed had the financial clout to adapt Sangster and Magnier’s strategy, expand it enormously and subsequently transform the bloodstock industry in this country.
It’s extraordinary that decades later, this man is still responsible for stabilising the British and Irish bloodstock markets. If Sheikh Mohammed had turned his back on the yearling sales in Newmarket this year, there would have been financial carnage.
Thousands of jobs could have been swept away. Hundreds of businesses gone to the wall. But even though he couldn’t be there in person, he stepped in having not played a shot at the French yearling sales.
To give an idea of the scale of his intervention, it has been estimated that at least 45 per cent of all the horses in training in Newmarket are funded from Dubai.
So as we stagger towards the exit of 2020, leaving Europe after years of acrimony without so much as a handshake, perhaps we should be more appreciative of our friends in the Middle East who have stood by us in these hard times?