Few individuals have played such an important role in sport as His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, be it as a competitor, owner, sponsor and/or a patron.
A highly successful endurance rider himself, he is one of the leading thoroughbred owners and his Godolphin team remain one of the most potent forces in horse racing.
Named after the Godolphin Arabian, one of the three stallions which came from Arabia to Europe in the 1700s, His Highness founded the operation in 1992 and it has gone on to become a powerhouse in global sport.
Since its inception more than a quarter of a century ago, Godolphin have won more than 6,000 races in 14 countries, employing 1,500 people to look after 4,500 horses across four continents.
At Meydan, he hosts the world’s best racehorses, trainers and jockeys at the richest race meeting, the $12 million Dubai World Cup, the culmination of the illustrious Dubai World Cup Carnival. This is all part of his drive to promote Dubai through sport, a project he has done incredibly well over the past four decades.
And that’s only a small portion of the fantastic work being done on a day-to-day basis to enhance the lives of UAE residents and make the country a better place.
Godolphin jockey William Buick, who has ridden more than 300 winners for the Dubai-based operation, including Epsom Derby and Dubai World Cup winners, hailed Sheikh Mohammed’s influence as both a person and leader.
“His passion for horses in general goes a long way back,” he said. “It’s his heritage.
“It’s in his blood. He’s a complete horse man. He knows his horses He’s got immense experience. His contribution to the sport on a worldwide scale is matched by none.”
Buick (pictured) rode Masar to Epsom Derby success last June – a historic first win for Godolphin in the greatest flat race in the world.
To see Sheikh Mohammed and the royal family’s reaction was a joy to behold after finishing second on three previous occasions.
“Getting the Epsom Derby win last year in his own Godolphin colours, it was an incredibly well-deserved win for him. Nobody deserves that more than him,” said Buick.
Masar means “journey” in Arabic and it has been an incredible road to success up until this point for Godolphin, with much more to follow.
In the last year alone, the home team have looked a cut above the competition, winning 600 races in total, including the Melbourne Cup, Epsom Derby and Dubai World Cup. One key way Sheikh Mohammed contributes to nurturing young racing enthusiasts around the world is through the Godolphin Flying Start Competition, a unique training programme founded in 2003 for students int-erested in the racehorse business.
Twelve candidates are selected each year to join the two-year full scholarship, providing them with professional training and experience unmatched by any other in the thoroughbred industry.
Clodagh Kavangh, manager of Flying Start Ireland, said: “Without the support and resources of Sheikh Mohammed, this would never have happened or continue.
“On my Masters programme nobody can believe that this man has been pumping money into Flying Start for over 15 years and that hardly any of them work for him.
“It appears that no other industry has a leader doing something as significant as this. A lot of people do say that this will be his greatest legacy.”
His legacy is unmatched and can also been seen in his Masar Godolphin programme, which gives young UAE nationals the chance to experience the world of international thoroughbred racing and breeding.
These are just some of the small details which have gone into making Godolphin a giant in international horse racing. All of which are Sheikh Mohammed’s ideas, visions and influence.
Three weeks ago at Super Saturday, Godolphin won four of the seven races, with Blue Point, Divine Image, Old Persian and Dream Castle all in imperious form ahead of the Dubai World Cup.
Sheikh Mohammed was trackside and looked every bit enthused, passionate and excited by the racing and seeing his beloved horses secure victory.
As World Cup night approaches on Saturday, Godolphin will be chasing a record ninth triumph at the world’s richest race.
The greatest trainer of them all is eight-time World Cup winning handler Saeed bin Suroor who has been working with Godolphin since 1994.
The Dubai native spoke of Sheikh Mohammed’s masterful touch, saying: “He’s the best supporter in the world for horse racing. He loves them.
“Ever since he was born, he loves them. Even if it’s endurance or flat racing.
“Even yesterday he was there at the track. He loves them. I talk to him all the time, the plan, what we do, he’s an expert.
“He’s always keen in the sport. He’s done so great for horse racing.”
His contribution to horse racing and society in general has been astounding and can never truly be gauged, such is the tireless work he does on a daily basis.
The last 25 years have flown by, but Godolphin’s vision for success is clear thanks to the influence of Sheikh Mohammed.
His commitment to building something permanent, much like Dubai itself, will leave a great legacy.
memorable victories at the Dubai World Cup, Epsom Derby and Melbourne Cup.
He stands on a platform within Meydan Racecourse and when the moment comes he lifts his prestigious golden whip over his head and shakes it to the warm UAE sky. There are 60,000 people here and they chant his name. “William, William, William.”
And just like that it’s over. Another Dubai World Cup night finished. Another win for Godolphin as they further cement their status at the pinnacle of world horse racing. For jockey William Buick, it was another remarkable win to add to his burgeoning CV. At 26-years-of-age, the world was his oyster.
It’s four years since that golden evening when Prince Bishop, ridden by Buick, sprinted clear of California Chrome to win by two and three-quarter lengths. And as each year has passed the Norwegian-born rider has become both a master and an inspiration in the saddle, achieving over 300 winners for the Godolphin stable alone – plus over 1,200 in total.
“It was special,” he says, recalling Prince Bishop’s win. “When I grew up wanting to be a jockey, it was a race that I only vaguely heard of. It was so big. I had pictures of Dubai Millennium on my wall when he won the World Cup back in 2000.
“To be able to win it myself back in 2015 on Prince Bishop was fantastic. It was in quite spectacular circumstances.
“More recently, Jack Hobbs winning the Sheema Classic in 2017 and Hawkbill in 2018. My first Dubai World Cup winner was Dar Re Mi in 2010. They are all great memories and it’s such an important night in our sport.”
The Dubai World Cup is one of the most special nights on the UAE sporting calendar, and Buick is a key figure for Godolphin, the home team founded by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.
“It’s just one of those nights that really gets the blood pumping. It’s a lot of adrenaline, big night, big show, good horses, very competitive races,” the Norwegian-born jockey said.
“It’s that bit of added spice with Godolphin, and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum and the royal family there. You get a real home team feel about it. It’s an incredibly important night.”
He has seen plenty of magical days since his first race at Brighton in 2006, but last season was one of his most successful and enjoyable. He rode Group 1 winners at Royal Ascot, Glorious Goodwood, as well as on Arc day in France.
However, his personal highlight was a red letter day on Masar at the Epsom Derby, sparking a memorable first win for Sheikh Mohammed in the royal blue silks of Godolphin.
“For Sheikh Mohammed to win the Derby in his own silks was very, very special. It was an incredibly well deserved win for him. Nobody deserves that more than him,” the 30-year-old said.
It will be his 10th appearance at the world’s richest race meeting this weekend and he looks set to ride five Godolphin horses – two of whom have been utterly dominant in Carnival races this season.
Blue Point, in particular, looks the real deal after his stunning victory at Super Saturday three weeks ago, when he was a comfortable winner by three lengths. A display that again backs up his supreme class for the Al Quoz Sprint.
“He’s always been held in massive regard in the stable, ever since he was a two-year-old. He is a group one winner now. He won the King’s Stand Stakes at Royal Ascot last year in what was a massive performance. A large part of us feel he hasn’t reached his full potential just yet,” said Buick.
“What we’ve seen of him in those last two runs in Dubai this season shows a horse who is putting everything together. He’s much more a finished article as a five-year-old. He’s a lot more confident, relaxed and goes about his job. He’s very impressive.”
Old Persian’s win on the same night was also impressive as Buick used all his experience to navigate the four-year-old away from a congested field to beat stablemate Racing History by a head. A win which sets him up nicely for the Dubai Sheema Classic.
“Old Persian has got a lovely profile. He had a long, busy year last year. He was a King Edward VII winner at Royal Ascot and then won the Great Voltigeur Stakes after that,” he said.
“I was so pleased with him on Super Saturday. It was a muddling race, slow pace and he had to show his class to win, which he did. I know it was only a short margin but it was quite comfortably at the end. (Old Persian) is very similar to Blue Point, it gives him a lovely stepping stone for the Dubai Sheema Classic. It was a performance that we were all very pleased with.”
Fatherhood is on Buick now. Son Thomas is only three-months-old but, for him and his partner Jane, life is good. Residing in Newmarket, Suffolk, he is close to work and balances his time between racing, travelling and family life.
He turns 31 in July but speaks with the maturity of a man 10 years older. He has seen a lot during his 13 years in the saddle but has always remained in the present, enjoying every moment, and being true to himself.
“You have to have the mindset. You have to get on with it and move on to the next day. By tomorrow it could all be forgotten,” he said.
“We’ve been lucky. (Thomas) has slept well through the night from the early days. We haven’t had a horrific lack of sleep. He’s been great. It does change you because before I was number one. Now there’s three of us. We make a plan, pack, make sure he is okay. It’s fantastic, amazing and it’s for the better.”
Win, lose or draw in Dubai on Saturday night, he will be back on the saddle again a few days later, striving to win and taking confidence in doing what he loves best on a daily basis.
“I’m massively enjoying it. There is a nice balance between enjoyment, focus and a job,” he said.
“It’s a massive team effort with Godolphin. We are very blessed with some beautifully bred horses who are showing their immense qualities. I wouldn’t even call it a job, it’s my passion.”
Satish Seemar has high hopes for favourite North America in Saturday’s Dubai World Cup, with the Dubai-based trainer bidding to land a maiden triumph in the marquee race after falling short in 2018.
North America, the favourite last year, came up short after blowing his start and went on to finish last of the 10 runners.
But everything looks in place for the seven-year-old to go better in the $12 million race at Meydan during the richest day of the international racing calendar.
“Last year we were positive but it didn’t work out due to the gate problems,” said Seemar.
“We used to use ear plugs for him on his way to the gates and then we’d take them off.
“They have strong loudspeakers at Meydan and once the plugs had been removed the horse got nervous and that’s compromised his chances.
“He’s gotten used to the noise and he ran two races at Meydan, which he won impressively.”
The Zabeel Stables handler, who also trains Godolphin Mile runner Secret Ambition, has guided North America to an unbeaten record this season.
The sire of Duwabi won legs of the Al Maktoum Challenge by nine lengths and two and a quarter lengths respectively, and looks in solid shape ahead of Saturday.
Drawn in post three for the mile-and-a-quarter race, North America will need a more consistent start than last year’s race.
“This year we have gone up a little bit but three is a safe draw for him, and we were hoping to get three to five for him, or even six,” said Seemar.
“He’s done nothing wrong this season. He’s very good and fresh, just like we saw in leg one of the Al Maktoum Challenge. He’s a very impressive horse.
“He likes to be fresh and hopefully it works out perfectly.”
A staggering $35 million is on offer across the nine races on Saturday and the Dubai World Cup remains the jewel in the crown for its founder His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
While North America is a worthy star under jockey Richard Mullen, Capezzano is also in the form of his life.
He has registered three impressive victories this season, including a thrilling triumph against 2018 champion Thunder Snow at Super Saturday three weeks ago.
“He won two races over the mile very convincingly to give us the signal to try him over the extended trip. He was amazing and we hope he can replicate the same form on the big night,” said trainer Salem bin Ghadayer.
“He started his career in Dubai. He doesn’t have a lot of experience. But by races and time, he will improve.
“He’s a little bit of a moody horse. He’s better than before so I’m relaxed.”
Thunder Snow, ridden by jockey Christophe Soumillon, is Godolphin’s sole runner in the race as they go in search of a record-ninth World Cup victory.
The five-year-old, who was drawn in post 12 for the race, finished third at the Breeders’ Cup classic in November and followed that up with a sluggish second place finish at Meydan earlier this month.
Trainer Saeed bin Suroor said: “He won last year from gate No10 but is in 12 this time, it’s still good from our side. I know the horse has a good turn of foot to take a good position early.
“He’s doing very good. He worked well and I’m happy with him. The more you run him, he’ll come back good. I’m happy with his progress. He’s settled. It’ll be a tough race with horses from Japan, America, local horses. He’s a tough horse.”
A colt firmly in with a shout is Yoshida.
The handsome Japanese-bred son of Heart’s Cry arrived in the UAE off a sixth-place finish in the inaugural Group 1 Pegasus World Cup Turf Invitational at Gulfstream Park in January.
The five-year-old also boasts Grade 1 wins on turf and dirt, having captured the Turf Classic at Churchill Downs in May, as well as the prestigious Woodward at Saratoga last year.
William Mott said: “He had a lacklustre performance in the Pegasus, but came out of it well and we were happy with how he travelled.
“He always trains well. He thrives on the morning sessions in particular. He’s adaptable and with a world class jockey (Jose Ortiz), we are very confident.”