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  The 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 winners. 

  Overall, Godolphin wins on average one in four of the races that it enters and prize money runs into the tens of millions. 

  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 communities. 

  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 Maktoum’s guidance. 

  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 Sheikh Mohammed.

  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 mind. 

  “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 Mohammed said. 

  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 traveling far. 

Endurance in the UAE

  Endurance 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 January 1993.

  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 by horses.

  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 developing Endurance.


  Over the last decade several remarkable achievements have been made by the endurance sport and the UAE riders. A brief description is given below. 

  • The first National Endurance Riding Rules were established in 1995.

  • The period 1995-1998 saw long-distance point-to-point endurance rides in the UAE.

  • For the first time the UAE riders participated in 1996 World Championship endurance in Kansas, USA.

  • In 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.

  • The 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.

  • In 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.

  • Young 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, in Spain.

  • The UAE has been elected Chairman of the Endurance Committee of Asian Equestrian Federations.



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