Sheikh was inspiration to a racing dynasty

SHEIKH Maktoum bin Rashid Al Maktoum may not have been as familiar a figure on racecourses as his two brothers but his influence has been just as important.

Sheikh Mohammed and Sheikh Hamdan have been more frequent visitors to Britain and Ireland following the fortunes of their horses than their elder brother but he did have more pressing matters to deal with.

After all, he was Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and as head of the family, the ruler of Dubai.

But the 62-year-old, who died yesterday after suffering a heart attack in Australia, was passionate about racing and for three decades his blue and white colours were seen to great effect not just in Ireland and Britain but throughout the world.

He spread his empire far and wide and has had hundreds of horses based with 10 trainers across the world, including Michael Stoute, Ed Dunlop, Mark Johnston and Neil Drysdale, as well as hundreds of horses in training.

He had a host of big-race winners, with his best-known horses including Fantastic Light, Cadeaux Genereux, Shadeed and Shareef Dancer.

Sheikh Maktoum enjoyed his first British Classic win with Touching Wood in the 1982 St Leger before landing the 1983 1000 Guineas with Ma Biche.

That was quickly followed the same year when Shareef Dancer, trained at Newmarket by Michael Stoute, won the Irish Derby at the expense of two other Derby winners Caerleon (French) and Teenoso (English).

Sheikh Maktoum went on enjoy a whole string of major triumphs with the likes of Shadeed (1985 2000 Guineas and Queen Elizabeth II Stakes), Green Desert (1986 Haydock Sprint Cup), Cadeaux Genereux (1989 Nunthorpe Stakes), Jet Ski Lady (1991 Oaks) and Hatoof (1992 1000 Guineas).

In 1997 he was the most successful owner in Europe, with Group Ones wins in five countries including Royal Applause in the Haydock Sprint Cup.

In 2001 it was his idea to supplement Lailani for the Irish Oaks, which she duly won and then also went on to glory in the Group One Nassau Stakes in the care of Ed Dunlop.

Dunlop is based at Gainsborough Stables in Newmarket and concedes he will be eternally grateful to Sheikh Maktoum for giving him his wonderful opportunity.

Just three months ago Dunlop saddled the six-year-old Court Masterpiece to give Sheikh Maktoum Group One glory in the Prix de la Foret at Longchamp.

Sheikh Maktoum was instrumental in setting up the Godolphin operation, from choosing the famous blue silks to deciding horses should be trained in Dubai to run in the top international races.

Fantastic Light, perhaps his greatest horse of more recent times, represented Godolphin.

He landed successes in races such as the Hong Kong Cup, the Irish Champion Stakes (to end Aidan O’Brien-trained Galileo’s unbeaten run) and Breeders’ Cup Turf that culminated in him winning the Emirates World Series (another Maktoum family inspiration) in 2000 and 2001 before being retired to stud.

The Sheikh was not afraid to move his horses to another continent either.

After Storming Home had won the Dubai Champion Stakes in 2002 for Barry Hills, Sheikh Maktoum whisked him off to the US to join Neil Drysdale and he duly won Grade One races at Santa Anita and Hollywood Park.

Storming Home was also first past the post in the Arlington Million, only to be relegated to fourth place for causing interference near the line.

Owning great racehorses was only a part of it. He purchased Gainsborough Stud in Newbury more than 20 years ago under the managership of Michael Goodbody and was instrumental in his family going into race sponsorship.

He made sure he got the right people behind him, snapping up Joe Mercer, one of the most popular, talented and respected jockeys, to be his racing manager 19 years ago after he retired from the saddle.

Following the announcement of his death, Dubai declared 40 days of mourning.

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