Maktoum family have long been associated with supporting
horse racing but as David Williams found out, they are
not bad horsemen themselves either.
Is there any stopping the Godolphin horseracing
juggernaut as it powers its way to world supremacy?
The Dubai-based stable has continued to dominate the
racing calendar in 2004, winning international Group One
and Listed races with regularity as the boys in blue set
the pace. It is 10 years since Godolphin celebrated its
first Group 1 race success when Balanchine won the
Energizer Oaks at Epsom. Incredibly, 108 winners have
been chalked up since and a total of 317 Listed race
Overall, Godolphin wins on average one in four of the
races that it enters and prize money runs into the tens
For such a young stable, this success rate may come as a
surprise to the uninitiated but for its pioneering
creator, HH General Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al
Maktoum, Dubai Crown Prince and UAE Minister of Defence,
Godolphin is simply fulfilling a vision that has helped
to establish Dubai as one of the world’s truly great
horse racing centres.
When Sheikh Mohammed talked of his wish to winter horses
in Dubai and then transport them en mass to summer
stables in Europe and further afield, many in the sport
were bemused. But those critics are thin on the ground
10 years later as year-round sunshine has proved to be a
key element to nurturing winners.
The Godolphin operation is just one component of the
Maktoum horse racing empire, which is respected the
world over. Always a keen enthusiast, Sheikh Mohammed
recognised that horse racing could be a vital marketing
tool to promoting the city of Dubai to the world.
Almost in parallel, the Dubai Racing Club was formed
with a remit to raise the profile and standards of horse
racing within this flourishing city. Again, the results
are staggering. Nad Al Sheba is one of the most
state-of-the-art racing tracks in the world and the $16m
World Cup horse racing day in March is the highlight of
a season offering just as much prize money and quality
race cards as any of the more established horse racing
Horses enjoy five-star accommodation during their stay
in Dubai and the Maktoum family has thrown open its arms
to welcome any owner, trainer, jockey or enthusiast that
wants to try their luck on these incredible race tracks
in the desert.
Horse racing is thriving in Dubai and it is frightening
to think just how big the sport will become under the
But the family has proved that it is more than just a
supporter of equine sports. Almost two years to the day,
one achievement by a 16 year-old member of that famous
Dubai ruling family eclipsed any of those by their
all-conquering Godolphin stable.
Sheikh Ahmed Bin Mohammed Al Maktoum created history in
September 2002 by becoming the first ever man to win the
Endurance World Championships, which were held during
the World Equestrian Championships in Jerez, Spain.
Riding Bowman, the brave youngest son of Sheikh Mohammed
mastered unfamiliar terrain and some of the worst
weather conditions riders had ever encountered to be
crowned a worthy champion by some margin.
Sheikh Ahmed fended of the challenges of 149 of the
world’s greatest endurance riders from 35 countries to
show the world that he has fulfilled his awesome
potential as a truly gifted rider.
He was ecstatic at the finish line and admitted that the
victory took him by surprise.
He said: “The race was very tough. It had all the best
riders and the very best horses so to finish on top is
really something. I honestly did not expect to win but I
feel great and very proud.”
Sheikh Ahmed’s 13 year-old ride Bowman had been trained
by Margaret Wade of Australia who finished third in the
grueling 160 km race. Second was Italy’s Antonio Rosio
who was full of admiration for the young champion.
Sheikh Ahmed was a part of the United Arab Emirates team
which was made up of his two older brothers – Sheikh
Rashid and Sheikh Hamdan – and his experienced father
But with some of the world’s most experienced riders on
his tail, Sheikh Ahmed, who was the youngest rider in
the field, kept his composure to cross the finishing
line without another rider in sight. He even had the
luxury of going the wrong way at one point but the
constant advice from his father in close attendance
guided him home.
It was also the first time in the Championship’s 37-year
history that a rider from the Arab or Asian countries
had won a medal of any description.
Sheikh Mohammed had said before the race that the winner
would have to beat a UAE rider for gold but on the day
no one was up to the task and Sheikh Ahmed returned home
a national hero.
Sheikh Mohammed said at the time that he hoped that the
victory should encourage more Arabs to take up the
sport, which is one of the fastest growing equestrian
events in the world. It could one day become a part of
the Olympic games.
He said: “It is growing at a fast pace. More owners are
breeding horses for endurance and the Arabian horses are
the most commonly chosen. In Arab countries as well as
in Africa the sport is growing fast.
“Whether it is an Olympic sport or not, whoever won this
event is the world champion. Nothing can take that away
as the world’s best riders and horses were here. The
endurance event is all about horsemanship. One must know
his horse well and the horse must understand the rider’s
“In endurance the horse must trust the rider’s judgment
and when you say go it must go. The rider and horse
become one in this fascinating test of endurance. It is
easy to make a horse fit for endurance riding, but to
understand him and get him to trust you is more
important and difficult too.
“Endurance is different to flat racing, not that I don’t
like flat racing, but in this sport the owners are
themselves riding the horses. It is a sport for the
owners and one of the fastest growing sports around.”
Sheikh Mohammed added that he uses endurance riding as a
way of keeping fit, explaining that he loses between 4-5
kilos during a day’s ride.
“While riding I begin early in the morning and you
forget everything else. You keep talking to the horse
and also concentrate and see where he puts his next
step. It helps me relax and I really enjoy it,” Sheikh
The Maktoum led UAE team has gone from strength to
strength since and Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed Al Maktoum
inspired them to a 1-2 finish in the FEI Newmarket race
in June this year.
Held over six stages and a total of 160kms, Sheikh
Hamdan finished ahead of team mate Mubarak Khalifa bin
Shafya to fend off a strong French challenge. Sheikh
Mohammed finished in sixth but his horse narrowly failed
to clear the final vet check.
Endurance riding’s growth has accelerated over the past
five years and the United Arab Emirates is gearing up to
host the biggest World Championship to date in January
2005. The UAE team will be hoping to continue its world
beating run to ensure that the gold medals will not be
Endurance in the UAE
rides in the United Arab Emirates, a proven sport loving
country, was started under the directives of President
His Highness Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. The UAE
Equestrian & Racing Federation began in April 1992 and
the sport has gone a long way since its inception in
The first modern
desert ride took place on January 7, 1993. Camels
competed against horses in this 40-km pioneering event
in the dunes of Dubai and the first 15 places were taken
The UAE Equestrian &
Racing Federation has built up a very strong
infrastructure to support equestrian sport in general
and endurance in particular. There are three
self-sufficient modern endurance centers or villages in
the country and 22 riding clubs and equestrian
establishments. Endurance riding has captured the top
position in the equestrian sports held in the United
Arab Emirates. Among its strongest supporters are many
members from the Royal families of the country and
several of Their Highnesses and Rulers of different
Emirates regularly take part in endurance competitions
alongside large numbers of UAE nationals and resident
foreign riders and visiting riders from abroad.
All endurance rides
are electronically monitored and controlled and receive
comprehensive media coverage. The United Arab Emirates
is working closely with several others in globally
the last decade several remarkable achievements have
been made by the endurance sport and the UAE riders. A
brief description is given below.
first National Endurance Riding Rules were established
period 1995-1998 saw long-distance point-to-point
endurance rides in the UAE.
the first time the UAE riders participated in 1996
World Championship endurance in Kansas, USA.
1998, for the first time the UAE hosted the World
Championship endurance which attracted a record 162
competitors out of which 78 completed the 160-km ride.
This record number of participants gained an entry
into the Guinness Book of World Records as “The First
Equestrian Federation to enter Guinness World Records
as the organizer of the Biggest Equestrian World
endurance Championship 1998”. For the first time, time
control was fully computerized and the riders carried
plastic swipe cards to register their arrival after
each phase of the ride.
first World’s Preferred Endurance Ride was held in
1999 in the UAE which is an annual feature and has
been renamed FEI/UAE World Cup Endurance.
late 2002, The Al Wathba Endurance Village in Abu
Dhabi built in 2000 was refurbished and the HH The
President’s Cup (160 km) and the National Day Cup (120
Km) rides are annual important events here.
UAE rider Sheikh Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Maktoum became
the youngest rider in history and also the first man
to win the coveted FEI World Cup Endurance
Championship at the 2002 World Equestrian Games, WEG,
The UAE has been elected
Chairman of the Endurance Committee of Asian