Princess Haya divorce: the sheikh and the £75m horse war

Divorce files show Princess Haya accused Dubai’s ruler of seizing 83 horses for the stables that bankroll British racing

David Brown, The Times
December 21, 2021

Kevin Manning was wearing the green and black silks of Princess Haya Bint al-Hussein when he rode New Approach to win the 2008 Epsom Derby.

The victory was another triumph for the princess who, with her husband Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, was one of the most powerful figures in British equestrianism and a member of the Queen’s racing circle.

It has now emerged that Haya demanded £75 million in compensation from Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, accusing him of seizing 62 of her racehorses and 21 showjumpers during their bitter divorce.

Sheikh Mohammed with the Queen at the Royal Windsor Horse Show in 2014

The £554 million divorce judgment officers a rare insight into the running of the sheikh’s celebrated Godolphin stables, which is alleged to effectively bankroll British racing.

Mr Justice Moor ruled that Haya’s racehorses actually belonged to Godolphin while the showjumpers she bought to compete at the Tokyo Olympics were partially funded from her children’s bank accounts.

The princess, 47, said that more than 400 horses had run as belonging to her but some had been transferred without her consent into the name of the sheikh’s Godolphin stable in Newmarket, Suffolk. The princess said she received £15 million in winnings in March 2018.

New Approach had been given to her by Mohammed on the birth of their daughter, Jalila, the princess said. She said the horse’s stud fees, which ran to many millions, had been retained by Godolphin.

The Godolphin stables in Newmarket were acquired and renamed by Dubai’s ruling family in 1988

Mohammed, 72, said Haya owned no racehorses and that, although some ran in her colours and were registered in her name, they were owned and financed by Godolphin at all times. He said the nomination to family members to permit his horses to run in their colours was merely “a licence”.

Mohammed accused Haya of exaggerating the valuations of many of the horses. He gave the example of Ben Vrackie, which Haya valued at £400,000 but which sold for £20,000.

Franke Dettori, right, rides Ben Vrackie against Ryan Moore on Baghdad at Ascot in 2019

Moor ruled in the family division of the High Court in London that the racehorses did not legally belong to Haya and the £15 million “winnings” had been a “generous gift” from her husband.

The judge said: “The racehorses were clearly not owned by HRH [Haya]. They were simply run in her colours. I am sure that gave her great pleasure but it is obvious that the horses were part of Godolphin. Godolphin bought the horses, paid for their upkeep and kept any winnings or stud fees. Overall, it is pretty obvious that the horses allocated to HRH would, like the entire Godolphin operation, have cost money not made money.”

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He ruled that the princess — a former president of the International Equestrian Federation who had served on the International Olympic Committee — should receive £5 million from her former husband to buy a “few reasonable horses” and run a “small operation” for several years.

Haya, a sister of King Abdullah II of Jordan, competed in the 2000 Sydney Olympics and was hoping to enter an equestrian team for the 2020 Tokyo games when her marriage collapsed. She spent £13.5 million of their children’s money buying horses for the Olympic showjumping bid and is herself owed £1.25 million, the court was told.

The team’s initial horses cost €8.1 million (£6.9 million) with PSG Final bought for a further €7.2 million and Irenice Horta for €5 million.

Cian O’Conner of Ireland rides Irenice Horta at the CHIO Aachen in 2019

Aralyn Blue was paid for with money taken from the account of Haya’s son, Zayed, who is now nine. Irenice Horta and Chianti’s Champion, which cost £2.6 million, were bought with money from the account of her daughter, Jalila, now 14.

Haya said the showjumping project had ended and that she would now sell the horses to refund the children’s accounts. Mohammed has agreed to return to Haya some showjumpers valued by her at £533,900.