Some of the world’s most successful Thoroughbred horse owners come from the Middle East.  Now, turf rivalries among these owners have, unfortunately, spilled over into the high-stakes domains of international relations and defense policy and strategy, in particular to the fight against global terrorism.

Down through the years, horse owners from Saudi Arabia have won major races worldwide.  King Abdullah Al Saud breeds and races Thoroughbreds, owning about 1,000 horses of different breeds.  Saudi Prince Khalid bin Abdullah is a member of the House of Saud and prominent owner of Juddmonte Farms and the crème de la crème of racehorses Arrogate and Frankel.  The late Prince Ahmed bin Salman campaigned 2002 American Horse of the Year Point Given.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, owns Darley and its racing arm Godolphin–one of the two most powerful names in horse racing, along with Coolmore Stud in Ireland.

Bahrain, another Middle Eastern country is also involved in horse racing.  The King and the Royal family are breeders of Thoroughbreds and import them to improve their domestic stock.

Qatar has quickly become a major global player in Thoroughbred racing and breeding.  Sheikh Fahad bin Al Thani, first cousin of the Emir, is a director of QIPCO Holdings (Qatar Investment Projects Developmental Holding Company) and chairman of Qatar Racing.  QIPCO is an official sponsor of Royal Ascot and sponsors British Champions Day and the British Champions Series, as well as the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain royalty are not just opponents of Qatar royals on the turf.  The first three entities, along with Egypt, have major political differences with Qatar, as reported in The Washington Post on June 6, 2017:  “Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt released coordinated statements, announcing a diplomatic break with the tiny-yet-wealthy peninsular nation of Qatar.  They cut air, sea, and land links and ordered Qatari officials and nationals stationed in their countries to return home….

The move is a reflection of long-running frustrations with the Qataris, who the Saudis and Emiratis claim are supporting terrorist groups as well as being far too cordial with Iran, their regional archrival.”

One wonders how many mares the Qatar sheikhs have sent recently to Darley to be bred.  What’s more intriguing, it must be a delicate situation, to put it mildly, when the sheikhs from embargoed Qatar cross paths at Royal Ascot and other European racing venues with their counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and perhaps Bahrain, maybe even in the winner’s circle to accept a trophy in a race that one or the other sponsored.

The decorous and elegant world of European horse racing at the highest echelon of the sport can’t be what it seems on the surface in summer 2017, not with some of the major players in the Sport of Kings, Queens, and Sheikhs punishing—politically, economically, and militarily–another powerful racing interest over alleged propagation of global terrorism.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business


Horse racing is a sport that attracts people for different reasons.  For example, the intellectual challenge of figuring out races is a main draw.  The intrigue of breeding and/or racing horses as an owner is another.

For owners, the experience can be a roller-coaster ride from extreme psychological highs to the lowest of lows, and the swing in emotions can occur quickly.  The 2017 Irish Derby is a case in point.

Trainer Aidan O’Brien won the race for the twelfth time.  Capri, son of Galileo and one of five Coolmore Stud entries, came home first with his stablemate Wings of Eagles finishing third.  Wings of Eagles had won the Epsom Derby in June at odds of 40/1.

The Coolmore/O’Brien upbeat mood over winning the race was surely quickly tempered by the discovery that Wings of Eagles had incurred a bad sesamoid fracture.  While the colt reportedly can be saved, he will never race again.

Whether an injured animal is an Epsom Derby winner or the cheapest of claimers, the conscientious owner is affected emotionally.  Years ago, the father of a childhood friend of mine owned several racehorses that competed primarily at Churchill Downs.  When one of his horses was injured in a low-dollar claiming race and had to be euthanized, the owner was visibly upset, perhaps just as much so as the owner of a stakes-caliber horse.

Another owner I knew bred his mare–his only horse–to a stallion standing at Overbrook Farm in Lexington, Kentucky.  After the colt was born, the owner would drive monthly a distance of 350 miles one way from his home to Lexington to watch the colt grow and develop.  The colt never raced, suffering a fatal injury in training as a 2-year-old.  The normally placid and seemingly unemotional owner was obviously shaken by the turn of events.

Some owners, a small minority I like to think, certainly don’t care about their animals, or else they would not allow them to be illegally medicated by unscrupulous trainers and veterinarians or sent off to slaughter when their racing days are over.  But the vast majority of owners do care and, when a life-ending injury occurs, they have the same empty feeling that dog owners do when the beloved family pet must be euthanized, even after a long canine life.  Penny, our family’s rescued Shih Tzu passed in 2014 at age 13 and we miss her and talk about her often.

Whether it is Ruffian, Go for Wand, Barbaro, Wings of Eagles or a $4,000 claimer, most owners suffer when a career-ending or life-ending injury results…and not just financially.  A caring racehorse owner quietly grieves.

Prospective racehorse owners have to ask themselves if they can occasionally cope with career-ending or terminal injuries.  Are the highs worth these lows?

They, of course, are not alone in pondering such a question.  A few years ago, for instance, an owner of Indy 500 cars left the sport, saying that he could not emotionally handle the death of another driver.  National Football League owners must struggle with the long-term effects on players of collisions and concussions.  MMA fighting, boxing, and ice hockey have the same issues.

Whether the highs of racehorse ownership compensate for the lows is a decision that will vary across individuals.  My personal view is that the highs are worth the lows, with two imperative humane stipulations having to do with integrity and a safety net:  the owner will not allow his or her horses to race on medication that is performance enhancing or masks a physical problem and invites injury, and, secondly, he or she will get an injured horse competent and ongoing veterinarian care and a proper retirement home in the event injury precludes the horse from racing again.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business


Independence Day, 2017

In colonial America, the most popular sport was horse racing.  A number of early presidents of the United States were avid fans.

William Bushong, the Chief Historian of the White House Historical Association,  published an article in 2015 titled “Presidents and the Heyday of Horse Racing in the Federal City.”  He wrote:

“Presidential parties attending horse races was once a common occurrence in the colonial period and early republic.  Even before the seat of national government moved from Philadelphia to the new capital of Washington, D.C. in 1800, horse racing was a popular and well-established sport in the region.  George Washington, statesman, general, and president, embodied this generation of early Americans who found sport and pleasure in horse racing.  Washington regularly attended and wagered on horse races throughout his life at meetings in Annapolis, Alexandria, and Williamsburg.

Over the next two decades what became known officially as the National Race Course, located just outside the Washington city boundary two miles north of the White House near Meridian Hill, vied with the best tracks in the nation in terms of patronage and the quality of the racing. Thomas Jefferson and James and Dolley Madison rarely missed the meets.  The best horses in the country competed there into the 1840s, and the Jockey Club dinner and ball, a highlight of the social season, concluded the meeting.”

Bushong said that Presidents Andrew Jackson, Martin Van Buren, John Tyler, and James K. Polk were regular attendees at horse races, along with senators, congressmen, and other government office holders.  Ulysses S. Grant was the last president who was an avowed follower of horse racing, preferring Standardbreds.  After Grant, sitting presidents tended to distance themselves from the sport, at least publicly, because of its connections to gambling and its elitist reputation as the “sport of kings.”

Richard Nixon is the only president to have attended the Kentucky Derby while in office, in 1969.  However, future or former presidents have attended, such as Harry Truman, Jimmy Carter, Gerald Ford, George H. W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Donald Trump.  According to Bushong, Franklin D. Roosevelt listened on the radio to the 1937 match race between Seabiscuit and War Admiral.

Besides presidents, various cabinet officials have been not only fans of horse racing, but owners and breeders–for example, former Treasury Secretary George Humphrey, U. S. Senator and Secretary of the Treasury Nicholas Brady, and Ambassador to Great Britain William Farish.

Horse racing was an integral part of the social and cultural milieu in early America.  While it is not so popular in contemporary times, it is firmly entrenched in American history as the first major sport.  To this day, large amounts of money and bragging rights hinge on the question of “Who has the fastest horse?”

Happy Independence Day USA!

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business