By Ed McNamara
In the history of thoroughbred racing, few had as big an impact as Sheikh Hamdan al Maktoum of Dubai. His champions won most of the world’s greatest races, and his farms in England, Ireland and Kentucky bred many of them. For 40 years he was a giant in a sport that mourned his death Wednesday morning at age 75.
Aljazeera.com credited him with turning Dubai into a world center of trade and business in his 50 years as Minister of Finance for the United Arab Emirates. Aljazeera said he “had been unwell for a few months.”
Tributes to the founder of Shadwell Racing quickly poured in. Churchill Downs president Mike Anderson was among the many who saluted the former deputy ruler of Dubai.
“Sheikh Hamdan’s lifelong passion to compete at the highest level on an international stage was epitomized by Invasor, who won the 2006 Breeders’ Cup Classic at Churchill Downs to clinch Horse of the Year honors,” Anderson said in a statement. “His legacy and famed royal blue and white-striped silks will be fondly remembered by thoroughbred racing and breeding fans around the world.”
They graced winner’s circles in England, Ireland, France, Australia, and Dubai as well as in the United States. Sheikh Hamdan was champion owner nine times in Britain, where he won the Epsom Derby with Nashwan (1989) and Erhaab (1994). In 2006 he swept the Belmont Stakes (Jazil) and the Breeders’ Cup Classic. He triumphed twice in the Dubai World Cup and won two Melbourne Cups.
Shadwell announced the death in an official statement, adding, “It is a time to reflect on his achievements and his enormous contribution to the global thoroughbred and Arabian industries. His legacy will live on through his horses. Everyone at Shadwell is so proud to have worked for such a loyal, generous, humble and wise man.”
Sir Michael Stoute and John Gosden, two of England’s top trainers, recalled Sheikh Hamdan fondly.
“He had a great knowledge and love for his horses,” Stoute told England’s Racing Post. “He made a significant contribution to British racing, and he will be greatly missed.”
Gosden began working for Sheikh Hamdan in the 1980s and trained his last English classic winner, Taghrooda (2014 Epsom Oaks).
“He’s always been an absolute gentleman with a true passion for his horses and a profound and intimate knowledge of them,” Gosden said. “Sheikh Hamdan was a most respected, loyal, kind and generous man of great depth and judgment. A huge contributor to the development of his country and a truly great international owner, breeder and philanthropist in the worldwide racing industry.”
A three-day mourning period was declared in the United Arab Emirates, where all government departments and institutions will be closed Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Meydan Racecourse will host the 25th running of the Dubai World Cup Saturday night.
Sheikh Mohammed al Maktoum created the Dubai World Cup in 1996 and built Meydan. On Wednesday, he posted a picture of his older brother, saying: “We belong to God, and to Him we shall return. May God have mercy on you, my brother, my support and my companion.”