It is with great sadness that the Arabian Racing Organisation learnt of the passing of HH Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Deputy Ruler of Dubai and UAE Minister of Finance and Industry. His global success breeding and racing thoroughbreds is widely acknowledged, but His Highness was also a great champion of Arabian racing worldwide and in the UK in particular.
His Highness was born on December 25, 1945 and was the second son of the late ruler Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum. Initially educated at the Al-Ahlia school in Dubai, he completed his further studies at the Bell School of Languages in Cambridge. This was when his passion for horseracing was ignited following visits to Newmarket races. His first thoroughbred winner, Mushref, was in 1980 at Redcar. Four years later he purchased the 6,000 acre Shadwell Estate, in Thetford, Norfolk, from which many of his considerable owning and breeding achievements on the racecourse with both thoroughbreds and Arabians have emanated.
At that time Arabian racing was just starting to develop in the UK and the sport was a natural fit for His Highness. Initially having a few horses in training with Jill Scrase, it was through his later association with Gill Duffield that he achieved his greatest Arabian racing successes.
Duffield began with four horses for His Highness in 1987. Their first Arabian winner was Kerim Bey who won at Aintree, followed by the prolific winning mare, Silvena, who won 14 races. However, his sights were set much higher with the feature race at the prestigious Arabian meeting at Kempton Park, the Dubai Stakes, as the goal. Bengali D’Albret was purchased from France with that race in mind and under Duffield’s care, he became the first horse to win the race twice, in 1993 and 1994.
‘Dubai Day’ as it was then known had been established in 1984 by the Arab Horse Society (of which he is also patron) thanks to Mrs Joan Ratcliff and the generosity of His Highness. The fixture had moved from Kempton Park to Newbury in 1997 and when in 1999 the Arabian Racing Organisation was formed, His Highness became the patron of the organisation, and of that event. Later it was rebranded as the Dubai International Arabian Races (DIAR), Arabian racing’s flagship meeting. It was the only full card of Arabian racing in Europe to feature four Group PA races alongside a range of competitive handicaps, including ones tailored for the sports’ grassroots.
In total, His Highness’s distinctive blue and white silks have won 54 races at the DIAR meeting since 1988, winning the Group 1PA Shadwell Dubai International Stakes no less than 13 times. Many of these winners have gone on to great success in the winter season in Dubai, where the feature race of the season is the Dubai Kahayla Classic, run as part of the Dubai World Cup.
His Highness finished third in the inaugural running with Chndaka, winning the first of his eight Kahayla Classic’s with Nivour De Cardonne, trained by Kiaran McLaughlin in 2000. Bopp Moon started a remarkable winning streak for His Highness in 2003, as he was followed by Kaolino and Madjani, the only horse to win three consecutive Kahayla Classics, from 2005 to 2007.
Then came the No Risk Al Maury years, though placed twice in the Kahayla, he also added to His Highness’s Dubai International Stakes wins with victories in 2007 and 2008. He was also the first horse to win at the newly opened Meydan racecourse and the first horse to top the International Classification rankings on 128, when they were initiated in 2011.
Duffield commented: “It’s such sad news. The end of an era. The quality of horses I trained for him was exceptional, such as Kaolino, Majdani and No Risk Al Maury. This is confirmed by seeing so many winners now, out of those early horses bred by Sheikh Hamdan at Shadwell. It was an honour to have those wonderful colours on horses I trained and for someone who had such a passion for Arabian horses.”
The best example of his breeding in recent times has been Muraaqib, trained in France by Francois Rohaut. By Munjiz, out of Tashreefat, a daughter of Bengali D’Albret and a mare Duffield trained to win three times over sprint distances. Muraaqib won seven Group 1PA races, including the Dubai International Stakes, the Qatar International Stakes (the UK’s most valuable race for Arabians) and the Jewel Crown (the world’s most valuable race for Arabians).
His Highness’s Shadwell Arabians Stallions operation has also been influential, with both Madjani and No Risk Al Maury champion sires in the UK and siring top level performers around the world. For 2021 all of his stallions are in the UK including Manark, who won the Kahayla Classic in 2015, and AF Al Buraq, three-time UAE leading sire and brother to AF Albahar, sire of His Highness’s last Kahayla winner AF Mathmoon in 2016.
His Highness’s own record in Arabian racing and that of his trainers has also been exemplary. Heading the ARO owner championship 19 times, 17 of which have been in succession, his horses have given his trainers their titles too, with Duffield winning 12 ARO trainers championships and those of her successors, James Owen and Phil Collington, standing at 4 – 1.
Last years’ ARO champion trainer Owen, who currently has around 20 of His Highness’s Arabians in training commented: “It’s been an absolute privilege to train for such a great man, he’s been a massive influence on Arabian racing, and will be sorely missed by everyone in the sport.
“His Highness gave me many firsts. My first winner Bon Baiser De Faust, my first DIAR winner, Al Azeeza, and my first Group winner in Awzaan. My thoughts are with his family at this time.”
His Highness has been famously loyal to his professional jockeys, Willie Carson was followed by Richard Hills, who has continued to maintain the partnership since retiring, acting as assistant racing manager. Paul Hannagan’s success on a three-year-old Manark at DIAR was his first winner, whilst His Highness is currently represented by Jim Crowley. However, the likes of Ted Durcan, Dane O’Neill, Martin Dwyer and Tadhg O’Shea have also regularly appeared on his Arabians in the UK and abroad. He has also generously supported amateur jockeys, retaining Phil Collington during the Duffield years and many a young amateur has been thrilled to don the famous blue and white silks before turning professional, most recently promising apprentice Laura Pearson and conditional Max Kendrick.
Collington said: “It’s been such an honour to work with His Highness and his horses, you couldn’t ask for a better employer. It was fantastic to ride an Arabian Group 2 winner for him and to have trained Group winners at all three levels for him, both here and abroad.
“I rode No Risk Al Maury to win on his debut at Hereford in 2006 and I trained his last UK Arabian winner, Loolwa, at Wolverhampton in November. His contribution to my career and to Arabian racing has been huge, we will all miss him greatly.”
Charles Gregson, ARO Chairman commented: “We are all deeply saddened by the news of His Highness’s passing and we send our sincere condolences to his family. We are very grateful for His Highness’s enthusiasm for the Arabian racehorse, which was instrumental in maintaining and developing the sport of Arabian racing in the UK.
“The continued success of DIAR, both for the grassroots and the wider international Arabian racing community was a great testament to this. It was a concept that started at Kempton to encourage the best Arabians to compete at the top level and that vision to this day has certainly not changed. Speaking on behalf of the ARO Board of Directors, it is one we are extremely proud to be associated with.”
Gregson concluded: “When we announced, with the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) last December that Arabian racing would be fully integrated alongside the British thoroughbred racing industry, it was the most significant breakthrough for our sport since we started racing under the guidance of the BHA following our inception. This was always the vision for the sport for His Highness, and his support for that integration cannot be underestimated, through this he leaves Arabian racing a lasting legacy.”
His Highness’s passion was clearly expressed in his aims in supporting ARO. “We want to see more participants in the sport from Britain. We want them to appreciate the beauty and strength of the Arabian horse. It is important to us that people are aware of the noble attributes of the Arabian horse and the thrill that competition in races can bring. We do not want it to be solely a sport for owners from the Middle East. We want everyone to recognise the magnificence of the Arabian horse.”
HH Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Shadwell Dubai International Stakes winners
1993 Bengali D’Albret
1994 Bengali D’Albret
1997 Jehol De Cardonne
2000 Sophie Du Loup
2001 Al Sakbe
2004 Eau Royal
2005 Aikido Vege
2007 No Risk Al Maury
2008 No Risk Al Maury
2014 Al Hibaab
HH Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s Dubai Kahayla Classic winners
2000 Nivour De Cardonne
2003 Bopp Moon
2016 AF Mathmoon