Princess Haya and her latest divorce battle — over racehorses

The ownership of a string of thoroughbreds is being jealously contested by the ruler of Dubai and his estranged wife

Rebecca Myers
June 14, 2020, The Sunday Times

Many divorcing couples fight over the custody of their children. Some argue over their pet chihuahuas. But caught up in High Court proceedings between the ruler of Dubai and his Jordanian wife are several thoroughbred racehorses.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, 70, is one of the world’s most successful owners and breeders and keeps a multimillion-pound string of racehorses at his Godolphin stables near Newmarket. Some of them were owned by his estranged wife, Princess Haya Bint Hussein, 46, an equestrian who represented Jordan in showjumping at the 2000 Sydney Olympics. Haya, who studied at Oxford, fled her husband last summer, claiming to be in fear of her life.

The horses appear to have become part of a venomous dispute that has shaken the world of British horseracing. Both the sheikh and his wife were friends of the Queen and often appeared with her at Royal Ascot and other meetings.

Racing records show that the ownership of at least six horses has been transferred back and forth between the princess and the sheikh since her arrival in London in April last year with her daughter Jalila, 12, and son Zayed, 8.

Among those horses is Beatboxer, a four-year-old, which appears to have been owned by Haya until Thursday, when the listing was changed to show Sheikh Mohammed as the owner. Beatboxer is due to race this week at Royal Ascot, which will be run behind closed doors.

Another disputed thoroughbred is Terebellum, which won the Dahlia Stakes at Newmarket last weekend ridden by Frankie Dettori. The horse appeared in the royal blue silks of Godolphin rather than Haya’s usual green and black silks.

Both Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and his wife Princess Haya were friends of the Queen

The dispute reached the High Court in May last year when the sheikh launched custody proceedings seeking the return of his children to Dubai. Haya responded in July with an application for the children to be made wards of court and for a protection order preventing her daughter Jalila from being forced into an arranged marriage.

Further embarrassment for Buckingham Palace came when Sir Andrew McFarlane, the country’s most senior family judge, found the sheikh had been responsible for a previous abduction of two of his daughters and their return to Dubai and had waged a campaign of “fear and intimidation” against Haya after she began an affair with her bodyguard.

The sheikh’s long friendship with the Queen is built on their shared love of horses and enthusiasm for breeding and racing. It has been reported that the monarch was ready to distance herself from him.

As the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan, Haya had her own ties to the British royal family and had tea with the Queen before legal proceedings were launched. She is thought to be living in an £85m house in Kensington, west London, bought in 2017.

According to the website of the Racing Post, Haya owned 16 horses last year, of which three are now listed under Godolphin. Three more were returned to her ownership after a brief transfer to the stable last summer. Another three have been sold.

The British Horseracing Authority declined to comment on ownership issues and whether Haya had consented to the changes. It said she had one horse in training that had raced this year — the aptly named Court House.