Dubai: Like some of the world’s most eminent seaside resorts, Brighton, on the south coast of England, has enriched so many people’s lives with happy memories of days spent enjoying the many joys of this idyllic town, a part of the historic county of Sussex.
However, it holds a deeper meaning and sense of occasion for one extraordinary man who began his sporting journey at Brighton 40 years ago, a journey that has taken him to the summit of horse racing and earned him the highest respect and admiration around the world.
Video courtesy of Godolphin
His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, will forever be linked with Brighton, for what transpired on its racetrack on June 20, 1977, would help transform the face of horse racing forever.
The second race on the afternoon card was a maiden’s race for two-year-old fillies. Run over 1,000 metres it carried a modest prize of £968 (Dh4,549) for the winning owner.
A field of ten runners faced the starter, but Shaikh Mohammad only had eyes for a diminutive filly named Hatta, who was being ridden by the great Australian jockey Ron Hutchinson.
Hatta, who was having only her third career start following noteworthy efforts at Sandown Park and Kempton, was sent off as a popular favourite and she lived up to her billing, coasting to an easy five-length victory over a horse called Blanket.
History had been made, but more was to follow as Shaikh Mohammad began to build a racing empire like never before, an empire that would encompass the world-famous Darley Stud, Godolphin racing stable and iconic Meydan racecourse in Dubai, among many others. Four decades of tireless passion and dedication to horse racing has seen Shaikh Mohammad establish himself as, unquestionably, the most influential person in the sport.
A love for horses runs in my blood. Don’t forget that horses have been bred for centuries by Arab tribes… They symbolise our history.”
- Shaikh Mohammad
Ali Khamis Al Jafleh, a pioneering former UAE Racing Chairman, aptly sums up Shaikh Mohammad’s contribution and impact on the global horse racing canvas.
“Horses and horse racing are Shaikh Mohammad’s passion, they are in his genes, in his ancestor,” said Al Jafleh. “It was always there, from childhood.
“What happened at Brighton was only the catalyst for greater things to happen. While most influential people in racing saw the sport as a business, Shaikh Mohammad chose to help develop and promote the sport worldwide.
“His foray into sponsoring the great races around the world, in the UK, America and Australia, sent out a strong message, that he was looking far beyond just being an owner, breeder and entrepreneur. He wanted to raise the standard of horse racing and to make it a better place for everybody who was involved, at every level. By doing that he made a mark that will live forever,” Al Jafleh added.
“Shaikh Mohammad gave thoroughbred racing and breeding a very strong foundation. He loved the competition but more than that he loved the sport and the people involved in it.”
It is widely acknowledged that Shaikh Mohammad has also had a huge impact on several legends and veterans of horse racing, from the great John Dunlop and John Gosden to Jim Bolger in Ireland and Andre Fabre in France.
Bolger, who trained Dawn Approach to win the 2,000 Guineas for Godolphin, the all-conquering racing stable that Shaikh Mohammad created in 1994, and New Approach to win the Epsom Derby for Princess Haya Bint Al Hussein, wife of Shaikh Mohammad, was lavish in his praise for Shaikh Mohammad.
“His impact on international racing is colossal and I’m sure the highlight of that is the Dubai World Cup,” said the legendary Irishman. “He has been an active participant in all the big races around the world over the past 40 years.
“Shaikh Mohammad is very sporting and also very competitive and I have no doubt that he will hold our share in a pivotal position in international racing in the very near future.
“I wish Shaikh Mohammad very well.”
John Dunlop, who trained Hatta, was equally effusive in his admiration.
“When meeting Shaikh Mohammad for the first time I was immediately struck by his charm,” he said. “While he clearly knew a great deal about horses, he was very keen to learn all he could about English racing.
“He bombarded me with questions about the preparation of thoroughbreds, and while he understood horses as a species, he was trying to reconcile his own understanding of the subject with the principles of training finely-tuned equine athletes.”
Dubai-born Saeed Bin Surour, Godolphin’s longest-serving trainer, also emphasised Shaikh Mohammad’s contribution to racing both in the UAE and internationally.
“Horses and horse racing has always been there in Dubai, for over a hundred years,” he said. “But when Shaikh Mohammad got involved he did it in a very professional way.
“He brought the best people to manage racing, the best horses, best jockeys and the best trainers. He did not compromise.
“He gave instructions for the building of Nad Al Sheba racecourse in 1986 and then opened Meydan in 2000. It was a dream for people in the UAE to have such a fantastic racecourse to watch horse racing.
“Horses have been a very big part of his life. What Shaikh Mohammad has done in horse racing, nobody has done before and I don’t think anyone can do in the future.”
Today, as we mark the 40th Anniversary since that epic race at Brighton, which helped shape the future of horse racing around the world, we must consider, that Shaikh Mohammad does not stop in his quest for excellence and success.