Dubai’s Ruler Is Entangled in a Kentucky Derby Controversy

LEXINGTON, Ky. — For practically 40 years, Dubai’s ruler has spent huge sums right here in central Kentucky. On 1000’s of acres of lush bluegrass with gently rolling hills mapped by limestone and plank fences. On horses — stallions and mares to populate his farms with foals and yearlings bought within the gross sales ring.

All in pursuit of successful a $3 million race, the Kentucky Derby.

After 11 failed makes an attempt, the ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, lastly has a horse with an actual shot to win the Derby, America’s most well-known race. Important High quality is the 2-1 morning line favourite to win its 147th operating on Saturday at Churchill Downs in Louisville.

The prerace discuss amongst racing insiders is all about what Sheikh Mohammed’s ardour, perseverance and cash have completed within the sport of kings. Explicitly not mentioned is the worldwide human rights scandal over the sheikh’s function within the disappearance of Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum, one in all his daughters.

However others are talking up. On Wednesday, a gaggle of human rights legal professionals and college students on the College of Louisville filed a grievance with the Kentucky Horse Racing Fee, asking it to bar Sheikh Mohammed and Important High quality from the Derby.

“The Horse Racing Fee should additionally use its authority to finish his involvement in Kentucky horse racing, not less than till Princess Latifa is freed from captivity,” the doc mentioned.

The grievance got here per week after a panel of United Nations human rights consultants, together with members of a panel that offers with pressured disappearances and violence in opposition to girls, requested Dubai for proof that Sheikha Latifa was nonetheless alive and referred to as for her fast launch.

“Proof of life and assurances relating to her well-being are urgently required,” the U.N. analysts mentioned. Lately, movies have surfaced of Sheikha Latifa saying she was imprisoned in a Dubai palace and afraid for her life. Her father, she mentioned in a single video, “solely cares about himself and his ego.”

“I’m making this video as a result of it might be the final video I make,” she mentioned.

This isn’t the primary time Sheikh Mohammed’s therapy of feminine relations generated outrage. Final 12 months in Britain, a choose discovered that he had kidnapped one other daughter, Shamsa, off the streets of Cambridge in 2000, flew her by helicopter to France after which returned her to Dubai. As well as, his youngest spouse, Princess Haya, additionally left Dubai fearing for her life after she was subjected to a marketing campaign of intimidation and harassment.

United Arab Emirates diplomatic missions in New York and Dubai didn’t reply requests for remark.

In Europe and particularly Britain, the place Sheikh Mohammed has even vaster monetary pursuits in actual property and the thoroughbred trade, the disappearances have prompted requires monetary sanctions and journey bans on the person who has been a racetrack visitor of Queen Elizabeth II. The British Horseracing Authority has come underneath strain to bar Sheikh Mohammed underneath its “match and correct individuals take a look at,” however has but to take action.

“His conduct is past the pale,” mentioned Kenneth Roth, government director of Human Rights Watch. “He ought to be persona non grata at these huge occasions.”

The United Arab Emirates is a crucial ally of the USA within the Center East, particularly now because the Biden administration tries to comprise Iran. The U.S. response to the U.N. assertion has been muted.

“We take these experiences severely and are intently monitoring the scenario,” mentioned a State Division spokesman. “We take any reporting of individuals held in opposition to their will severely and reiterate that freedom from arbitrary detention is a common human proper.”

In 2018, Sheikha Latifa, 35, fled Dubai in a yacht, however was turned over to Emirati safety officers by Indian commandos who had raided the boat and seized her. She has not been seen in public since, aside from an look at a lunch attended by Mary Robinson, a former president of Eire. On the time, Robinson mentioned Sheikha Latifa was mentally troubled and receiving excellent care from her household, solely to later inform the BBC she had been “horribly tricked.”

Right here in Kentucky, the place the bluegrass is seeded with Sheikh Mohammed’s riches, nobody desires to speak about him past the probabilities of Important High quality lastly delivering him the blanket of roses.

In spite of everything, Sheikh Mo, as he’s identified right here, is a one-man financial impression occasion. He employs a whole bunch of Kentuckians. Most Septembers, he arrives at Blue Grass Airport by non-public jumbo jet for the Keeneland yearling sale. He examines horses alongside hardboot breeders and homeowners, typically sporting a windbreaker within the royal blue of his household’s Godolphin racing secure.

And Sheikh Mo spends — a whole bunch of tens of millions of {dollars}, to this point, successful some auctions and driving up costs on the horses that he underbids on.

As Arthur Hancock III, a fourth-generation thoroughbred breeder, as soon as put it: “If one September that huge previous aircraft wasn’t on the airport, you’d have an entire lot of hearts sinking round right here.”

The Kentucky Horse Racing Fee didn’t reply to a request for remark. Jimmy Bell, the president of Darley America, declined to be interviewed concerning the sheikh or his American operation.

Shannon Arvin, the brand new president and chief government of Keeneland, mentioned the gross sales firm dealt principally with Bell and his workers.

“I’m not very aware of the information or circumstances surrounding another points relating to Sheikh Mohammed,” she mentioned.

Within the Nineteen Eighties, the Maktoum household acknowledged that Dubai couldn’t prosper on a diminishing oil reserve and got down to diversify the economic system and grow to be the monetary capital of the United Arab Emirates, a rustic incorporating seven emirates that received independence from Britain in 1971.

In thoroughbred racing, Sheikh Mohammed mixed one in all his nice pursuits along with his ambition to show Dubai into the Singapore of the Center East. He has business breeding operations and 1000’s of acres in seven international locations from Europe to Australia to Japan.

His horses have received greater than 5,000 races, competing globally on the high ranges of racing, together with victories in France’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, England’s Epsom Derby and Australia’s Melbourne Cup. In North America, Sheikh Mohammed’s horses have received greater than $60 million, and Godolphin has received the Eclipse Award for excellent proprietor 3 times.

It’s unlikely the sheikh will probably be at Churchill Downs to observe Important High quality try to win one of many few races on the earth that has eluded him. Whereas Sheikh Mohammed generally is seen on the races in Europe, he hardly ever attends races at American tracks. He’s, nonetheless, a fixture on the Keeneland sale, the place he strikes amongst horsemen in denims and with a coterie of advisers. He’s considered pleasant however not too acquainted, and he can supercharge the public sale ring when he sees a horse he desires.

Important High quality is proof of how Sheikh Mohammed’s operation on this nation has advanced. In contrast to a lot of his Derby entrants (the most effective was Frosted, who completed fourth in 2015), who had been bred, skilled and raced abroad, this grey colt was born right here. He was final 12 months’s 2-year-old champion, is undefeated in 5 begins in America and has banked greater than $2.2 million.

Important High quality is skilled by a Louisville native, Brad Cox, who was the 2020 Eclipse Award winner for excellent coach. He, too, has tried to remain centered on the racetrack and keep away from worldwide intrigue.

“I imply, so far as American racing, that is — in my eyes, it’s the largest race there’s,” Cox mentioned by way of teleconference. “I feel most individuals within the enterprise, they might agree with that. And I do know Sheikh Mohammed wished to win the race for a number of years.”

Cox, like others interviewed right here, didn’t converse of kidnapped and imprisoned daughters and harassed and intimidated wives. He mentioned he counted himself lucky, as do most within the thoroughbred trade right here and in Europe who rely on the sheikh’s patronage.

“That they had an aesthetic group that’s clearly coping with some high-end bloodstock, a few of the greatest bloodlines on the earth. And it’s been only a actual honor to coach for such a worldwide empire and to have a horse like this.”

Lara Jakes contributed reporting.

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