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A Tribute to HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum 1945 – 2021

The whole racing world was shocked and saddened by the untimely death of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum on 24 March. His passing has particular significance to the world of Arabian racing in which not only did he make an enormous contribution through sponsorship, but also in which he participated as a major owner and breeder.

His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum

It all started in 1984. Joan Ratcliff, then Chairman of the Racing Committee of the Arab Horse Society, wanted to hold a race meeting to celebrate 100 years since the first Arabian races had been held in Great Britain. It would take place at Kempton Park where Arabians were about to run for the first time on a Grade 1 racecourse. In search of a sponsor, she turned to the Emirate of Dubai and its Minister of Finance HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum. The result was a very generous £25,000 of which £7,500 went to the feature race the Dubai Stakes. When you realise that in ordinary races the winner received just £65, the enormity of this generosity and the excitement it generated can be well understood. It was won by Valina (Al Nahr Montino x Radsilla), owned by Wishtrend Ltd and trained and ridden by John Elliot. Since that auspicious day Sheikh Hamdan has been one of the greatest supporters of Arabian racing, both here and internationally, and for almost 30 years one of the most important owner/breeders in the sport.

Horses and racing of one sort or another have long been part of the culture of the ruling families of the United Arab Emirates; impromptu races were held to celebrate weddings, national holidays, and visiting heads of state. While the Maktoum brothers supported all of these, it was only when they moved into the Thoroughbred world that their passion was really ignited, each brother following his own path but having a profound influence on all aspects of racing. Since his first TB winner, Mushref (Key to the Mint x Forever Amber) in 1980, the scale of Sheikh Hamdan’s involvement with Thoroughbreds has brought global success – in the UK alone, he has taken the Leading Owner Title seven times and Leading Breeder five times. But Sheikh Hamdan developed another equal passion, that of Arabian horse racing, with which he has been closely involved ever since his first introduction 38 years ago.

Sheikh Hamdan
The successful team – Sheikh Hamdan at Kempton Park with Gill Duffield, Richard Lancaster, Richard Hills, Mirza Al Sayegh.

Needless to say, it was not long before Sheikh Hamdan was looking for Arabians to race himself and for his blue and white silks to be seen in Arab racing. His first winner came in 1987 when Kerim Bey (Shahir x Ermine Shadow) won the King Tut Stakes ridden by Mrs Lucy Gibbon in a 20 runner field. Kerim Bey was to win again two weeks later at Fakenham, and these wins gave trainer Gill Duffield her first of many successes. It was not long afterwards that Gill was persuaded to train full time for His Highness, cementing an outstanding team that grew and lasted until Gill retired in 2015, all under the dedicated eye of Richard Lancaster, Director of Shadwell Studs. Among Sheikh Hamdan’s early stars was the beautiful mare Silvena (Klarnet x Silvretta Sky), winner of 14 races including the Baniyas Sprint for mares at the 1991 Kempton Park International meeting. Silvena, Silkan (Klarnet x Sky Silhouette) and Razee (Narim x Dancing Rose) all contributed to Sheikh Hamdan winning the first of many Leading Owner titles in 1991.

Kerim Bey
Kerim Bey winning at Fakenham in 1987, trained by Mrs G Duffield ridden by Mrs L Gibbon

By this time, racing had matured considerably, and stiff competition had come from a new source, Russia! Sheikh Hamdan was quick to buy several stallions including Normativ (Mascat x Narta), winner of the 1993 Emirates Arabian Championship Mile. He eventually went to stand at stud in the Czech Republic where he was used to cross on Trakehners to breed sport horses as well as purebreds.

Normativ Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum
Normativ (Mascat x Narta), winner of the 1993 Emirates Arabian Championship Mile. Credit Betty Finke

International races had been introduced at the Dubai-sponsored Kempton Park meeting and international races naturally brought international competition, and the sizeable prize money tempted the French to cross the Channel – Dormane (Manganate x Mandore), Cherifa (Cheri Bibi x Managhi) and Rubis de Carrere (Elaborat x Nevadour) were just a few who took the winnings home. The French dominance naturally caught Sheikh Hamdan’s eye and Gill found herself travelling to see if she could find a horse to win what had become the Dubai International Stakes.

Bengali d’Albert winning the Coupe d’Europe du Cheval Arabe at Evry in 1993, trained by Mrs G Duffield and ridden by Thiery Jarnet
Bengali d’Albert winning the Coupe d’Europe du Cheval Arabe at Evry in 1993, trained by Mrs G Duffield and ridden by Thiery Jarnet

The result was the first of three chestnut superstars, Bengali d’Albret (Cheri Bibi x Mangalie d’Albret), the most special of a star-studded cast of horses that passed through Gill’s yard. From 24 starts, Bengali had 16 wins and seven places over four years in France, the UK and the UAE. He won the Dubai International Stakes twice, coming second on the third occasion when the distance changed from 2400 to 2000m. He also won the Coupe d’Europe du Cheval Arabe at Evry, France, twice, giving his owner enormous pleasure and paving the way for regular shopping trips to France that ensured Sheikh Hamdan’s name appeared at the top of the Leading Owner table almost continually until 2019. Bengali was not just an outstanding racehorse, but he has proved a very good sire of broodmares, and his daughters (ex Seglaoui by Tidjani) and Laqataat (ex Qosheeyya by Nuits St Georges) have produced multiple winners for Shadwell. Muraaqib (Munjiz x Tashreefat), a winner of seven Group 1 races including, at the time, the world’s richest race, the 2017 Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan Jewel Crown, must be the crowning achievement of Sheikh Hamdan’s breeding operation to date. Muraaqib was trained in France by Francois Rohaut part of an arrangement that included Haras de Saint Faust and trainer Damien de Watrigant to have horses bred, trained and run in France prior to going to the UAE.

Madjani in January 2007. Credit Andrew Watkins
Madjani in January 2007. Credit Andrew Watkins

The second ‘super’ horse to carry Sheikh Hamdan’s colours to outstanding success was Madjani (Tidjani x Salama) who won 13 of his 17 starts, of which seven were Group 1. This record included The Dubai Kuhayla Classic an amazing three times and The Presidents Cup, in Abu Dhabi, twice. He was UAE Horse of the Year in 2005, 2006 and 2007. At stud he produced many successful offspring of which homebred Handassa (ex Ziva by Dormane) now carries his sire’s mantle at stud in Shadwell. This very sound family are proving popular in endurance breeding.

No Risk Al Maury
No Risk Al Maury. Credit T Jones

The third superstar racehorse and sire is No Risk Al Maury (Kesberoy x Nectarine Al Maury) He is a highly popular sire around the world, not surprising when his classic pedigree, superb temperament, and race career are considered. He won 17 of 25 races in the UK, Europe, Turkey, and the UAE, six Group 1 and five Group 2. Having stood in France at Haras de Saint Faust for much of his career, he returned to Shadwell last year where, like most of Shadwell’s treasured horses when his stud career finishes, he will end his days.

Shadwell has considerable mare power, but the number is kept relatively small with approximately 25 active broodmares. Those that are to be covered this season include 11 Group winning or placed homebred mares, daughters of Sophie du Loup (Manganate x Nivada), Hathrah (Makzan x Ester du Paon), Ouassila Thabet (Akbar x Harka), Seglaoui (Tidjani x Shade), Ziva (Dormane x Cherifa) and Magie de Faust (Dormane x Gina de Carrere), mares that have left their mark at Shadwell. In order to preserve a few of the precious bloodlines of older mares, Sheikh Hamdan agreed that a limited embryo transfer programme could be used and at this point a successful transfer has taken place from Neige Al Maury, half-sister to No Risk Al Maury, by the total outcross stallion AF Al Buraq (Amer x Al Hanouf), three times Leading Sire in the UAE. Al Buraq has been standing in France for the last three years but is now finally back home in Shadwell. He is having a very busy season covering the majority of the mares.

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The strict control of numbers has meant that there have been opportunities for people to acquire well-bred Shadwell mares, while Shadwell stallions have been leased around the world. Mandolynn Hill and CreRun Farm in the USA particularly benefitted with such stallions as Kaolino (Dormane x Cary de Carrere), Chndaka (Dormane x Malika Fontenay) and Nivour de Cardonne (Manganate x Pistache du Cassou). This was very much in line with Sheikh Hamdan’s desire to promote Arabian racing and help breeders get started.

The Shadwell logo and bright blue colour have been seen at hundreds of race meetings, but perhaps not more so than on Dubai Day which developed from that very first sponsorship to become DIAR, Dubai International Arabian Races. Originally this was a day held at Kempton Park, but it moved to Newbury in 1997 where hundreds turned up for this brilliant piece of publicity for Arabian racing and the Emirate of Dubai. All manner of gifts – a draw for holidays in the Emirates and activities for children – brought in many people, introducing them to the sport for the first time and showcasing races that brought together Europe’s best Arabian racehorses and provided unforgettable wins and experiences for so many. DIAR also sponsored single races on a Thoroughbred card, the first step in turning Arabian racing into a professional sport.

HH Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum greets jockey Dane O'Neil and Prince Hamin
HH Sheikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum greets jockey Dane O’Neil and Prince Hamin (Prince Dorient x D’Joulia du Falgas)

After Gill’s retirement, the training reins were handed on to two young men who had grown up with Arabian racing and experienced all its thrills. Phil Collington had worked with Gill in the UK and Dubai; his first ride for Sheikh Hamdan was in 2003 and later he became the retained amateur. Nowadays as a trainer, he has had success with many of Sheikh Hamdan’s homebred horses, his most recent star being the young mare Loolwa (Al Jakbar x Zormania). The second trainer in the UK is James Owen whose parents had been among the earliest supporters of Arab racing with such horses as Nazzerin (El Kherron x Naharetta), who won the Jumeirah Stakes at the 1988 Dubai sponsored Kempton International where the Dubai International Stakes was won by none other than Dormane!

Sheikh Hamdan had an amazing capacity to know and remember his horses despite his demanding life in government. He took close interest in their care as well as their races and Richard Hills, who rode so many of his international winners and is now the Racing Manager for Arabian Horses at Shadwell, has many tales of Sheikh Hamdan’s involvement including planning race day tactics, sometimes without the knowledge of the trainer!

A rather shy and serious man but with a sense of humour enjoyed by those who knew him well, he cared deeply for education and supported two recent Equine Conferences held during the Dubai International Arabian Championships in Dubai, which he also sponsored.

Sheikh Hamdan receiving the trophy for Normativ from Georgie Moore, Chairman of the Racing Committee
Sheikh Hamdan receiving the trophy for Normativ from Georgie Moore, Chairman of the Racing Committee

He was very much a family man as can be learnt from his daughter Sheikha Hissa who he greatly encouraged and supported. She pays full tribute to him in her book Tajaarub, about her journey as a horse woman. Indeed, Sheikha Hissa follows in her father’s footsteps, breeding and racing her own Thoroughbreds. Writing of her father she says: “He is not a man of many words, but when he speaks, he says what he means and always means what he says. I never met a person who can think like my father and I am grateful for having such a wise role model in my life.”

It could be said Arabian racing has also lost a very special father and certainly Sheikh Hamdan’s death is the end of an era. He will be greatly missed.

First published in The Arabian Breeders’ Magazine Volume V Issue I 

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