Ruler and architect of contemporary Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum is also celebrated in racing circles as one of today’s leading owners and breeders of thoroughbreds in his role as the founder of Godolphin, established in 1994 and now one of the world’s largest and most successful racing stables. Sheikh Mohammed’s love of horses runs deep: he is said to have shared his breakfast with his horse en route to school as a boy, to have competed in his first horse race aged 12, and to have been able to tame wild horses considered unrideable by others. His love of the turf dates back to his time as a student at Cambridge in England in the 1960s, and within a decade he and his brothers Hamdan and Ahmed all had horses in training at nearby Newmarket. The first of many Maktoum family triumphs came in 1982, when Hamdan’s Touching Wood won that year’s St Leger classic at Doncaster, followed up by Derby wins in 1989 and 1994.
Godolphin now have over 1500 horses in training across the globe and have won more than three thousand races in fourteen different countries, becoming one of the biggest buyers and breeders of racehorses on the planet, with a total investment in bloodstock, stud farms and various related properties now worth over US$2.45 billion. In 2013, they also had the less enviable distinction of finding themselves at the centre of what The Economist described as “the biggest doping scandal in racing history” when it was discovered that 22 horses at their Newmarket stables had been dosed with anabolic steroids by their head trainer, Mahmood al Zarooni. Al Zarooni was immediately dismissed and prompt action was taken to clear Godolphin’s global reputation, and in 2014 the stables went on to enjoy easily their most successful year ever, with a staggering 361 wins worldwide.