x Abu Dhabi, UAE Thursday 20 July 2017

Racing cements Royal ties

Racing is sure to be on the agenda this morning when Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, meets the UK's Queen Elizabeth II.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, arrives at Royal Ascot with the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Duke of York in the royal carriage.
Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, arrives at Royal Ascot with the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Duke of York in the royal carriage.

Racing is sure to be on the agenda this morning when Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, meets the UK's Queen Elizabeth II in the Emirates Palace Hotel in Abu Dhabi.

The two Royals consider racing and equestrian pursuits to be part of their heritage and culture, with Sheikh Mohammed injecting substantial amounts into the bloodstock industry and the Queen maintaining a breeding operation set up by William III in the 17th century.

And it is their shared passion for the racehorse that has helped to forge strong links between their two countries - more than a million British nationals visit the UAE every year.

The importance of the relationship between the two Royals cannot be underestimated by those living in Dubai. Twelve months ago, when the Dubai World debt-restructuring situation emerged, Sheikh Mohammed was received by the Queen in Windsor Castle on a whistle-stop tour of Britain that involved talks with Gordon Brown, the-then prime minister, at 10 Downing Street, as well as David Cameron, Brown's successor.

John Warren, who has been advising the Queen on racing matters for 15 years and has been her racing manager for 10, has seen the relationship between the two Royals develop.

"They met many years ago formally, when Sheikh Mohammed was a young man, but it wasn't much more than a passing official meeting," Warren said.

"As is the Sheikh's style when he does anything he tries to do it exceptionally well, and therefore it didn't take long for everyone, not just the Queen, to look up to this man and appreciate that he was taking racing and the bloodstock industry very seriously.

"So for the last 20 years the Queen has had occasion to see Sheikh Mohammed as a friend on a fairly regular basis through their racing interests."

Both were initiated into equestrian pursuits at a young age. As a descendent of the Bani Yas tribe, Sheikh Mohammed's youth was spent riding horses, and he participated in his first race when he was 12 years old.

The Queen was given her first pony - a Shetland called Peggy - by her grandfather, George V.

Not many would credit Sheikh Mohammed with humble beginnings, but his career as an owner started out in such a manner. It is said in racing circles that when he was 28 years old the Sheikh took a train to the seaside town of Brighton in June 1977 in order to watch Hatta run in the unremarkable Bevendene Maiden Stakes, worth a paltry Dh5,614. The Sheikh's filly, trained by John Dunlop, was his first winner in Britain and a thirst for British racing was embedded.

Four years later, the man synonymous with Dubai bought his first stud farm, the 161-acre Dalham Hall property in Newmarket. Today at the headquarters of British racing he owns thousands of acres of farmland and, along with his family, props up the entire industry.

"The Queen sees Sheikh Mohammed perhaps two to three times a year, often at the Derby and at Royal Ascot," Warren said. "Sheikh Mohammed will meet the Queen in the parade ring, often paying his respects along with Princess Haya, and quite often he will join the Queen for afternoon tea during the Royal meeting."

Last year on the third day of Royal Ascot, the Sheikh was invited to lunch at Windsor Castle. From there he was the guest of honour, joining the Queen, the Duke of Edinburgh and the Duke of York in a horse-drawn carriage which whisked them the six miles from the castle to the Ascot parade ring.

The two met this season at the Derby at Epsom where the Queen described Meydan Racecourse as a wonderful gift to the world of horse racing, and again on the first day of Royal Ascot where the proximity of the Sheikh's box to the Royal box above the finish line facilitates easy access.

If their racing passions are intertwined, it follows that their bloodstock is also linked. There were 34 horses that ran in the Queen's purple, scarlet, gold and black racing silks in the 2010 season, 10 of which were bred from Darley sires owned by the Sheikh.

"The Queen uses Darley stallions in Europe, America and Ireland," Warren said. "She uses Street Cry in America, and will use Dubawi and Sharmadal, who are both becoming important proven sires."

With William Hague, the British foreign secretary, and the Duke of York also to be present this morning, they might be well advised better brush up on their racing talk.

sports@thenational.ae