5.At the Ascot: Shaikh Mohammad rides with Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip as they enter Ascot racecourse for the start of the third day of races in 2011. Image Credit: Gulf News archive

Dubai: While it is difficult to gauge the exact contribution the Maktoum family has made to British sport by its investment in horseracing, it is almost impossible not to take into account its importance.

Horses have always held great interest for the Maktoums, and there is no denying that the sport has played a major role in developing mutual relations between the UAE and UK — a relationship that has significantly helped boost investment and cooperation between the two friendly countries.

To find the catalyst to this historical association of sporting minds, one need look no further than a race meeting that took place at Newmarket racecourse on May 5, 1967. It was the English 2,000 Guineas, one of the most prestigious races for three-year-old horses, which was attended by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and Minister of Finance, during the time when Shaikh Mohammad was studying at the Bell Language School in Cambridge.

For the record, the race was won by a horse called Royal Palace, ridden by Gary Moore, but, more significantly, what Shaikh Mohammad and Shaikh Hamdan witnessed on the day would consume their interest and in due course result in both brothers building historic racing empires that would extend across the UK and the rest of the world.

The historic home of racing, Newmarket, houses the now famous Godolphin Stables created by Shaikh Mohammad and his Darley Stud thoroughbred management and breeding operation, which provide employment for more than 300 people. Darley has its headquarters at Dalham Hall Stud in Newmarket and, together with Gainborough Stud, provide jobs and revenue for hundreds of industry people while helping raise the profile of the breeding and horse management side of the sport.

Shaikh Hamdan’s involvement in horseracing in the UK is no less significant. Over the years, he has invested heavily in both racing and breeding, where he has acquired major operations in England and Ireland. Among the eight stud farms that he owns worldwide under the Shadwell banner, six are based in England and his Derrinstown Stud is in County Kildare, Ireland.

In another validation of Shaikh Hamdan’s commitment to social welfare and community development, Shadwell Estate Company Limited supports several charities in the UK, with the foremost being the East Anglian Air Ambulance (EAAA), who have been a huge beneficiary of their generosity.

Under the patronage of his racing stable, Shaikh Mohammad sponsors the annual Godolphin Stud and Stable Staff Awards, which celebrate the vital role of stud and stable staff around the country in making racing such a popular sport. Organised by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA), in conjunction with the Racing Post, the awards offer £120,000 in prize money. They are the only one of their kind in the sport.

Given the sheer scale and passion of their commitment, it’s hard to imagine what the sport of horseracing in the UK would have been like without the patronage of Shaikh Mohammad and Shaikh Hamdan.