Some of the world’s most successful Thoroughbred horse owners come from the Middle East.  Now, turf rivalries among these owners have, unfortunately, spilled over into the high-stakes domains of international relations and defense policy and strategy, in particular to the fight against global terrorism.

Down through the years, horse owners from Saudi Arabia have won major races worldwide.  King Abdullah Al Saud breeds and races Thoroughbreds, owning about 1,000 horses of different breeds.  Saudi Prince Khalid bin Abdullah is a member of the House of Saud and prominent owner of Juddmonte Farms and the crème de la crème of racehorses Arrogate and Frankel.  The late Prince Ahmed bin Salman campaigned 2002 American Horse of the Year Point Given.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, owns Darley and its racing arm Godolphin–one of the two most powerful names in horse racing, along with Coolmore Stud in Ireland.

Bahrain, another Middle Eastern country is also involved in horse racing.  The King and the Royal family are breeders of Thoroughbreds and import them to improve their domestic stock.

Qatar has quickly become a major global player in Thoroughbred racing and breeding.  Sheikh Fahad bin Al Thani, first cousin of the Emir, is a director of QIPCO Holdings (Qatar Investment Projects Developmental Holding Company) and chairman of Qatar Racing.  QIPCO is an official sponsor of Royal Ascot and sponsors British Champions Day and the British Champions Series, as well as the King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain royalty are not just opponents of Qatar royals on the turf.  The first three entities, along with Egypt, have major political differences with Qatar, as reported in The Washington Post on June 6, 2017:  “Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt released coordinated statements, announcing a diplomatic break with the tiny-yet-wealthy peninsular nation of Qatar.  They cut air, sea, and land links and ordered Qatari officials and nationals stationed in their countries to return home….

The move is a reflection of long-running frustrations with the Qataris, who the Saudis and Emiratis claim are supporting terrorist groups as well as being far too cordial with Iran, their regional archrival.”

One wonders how many mares the Qatar sheikhs have sent recently to Darley to be bred.  What’s more intriguing, it must be a delicate situation, to put it mildly, when the sheikhs from embargoed Qatar cross paths at Royal Ascot and other European racing venues with their counterparts from Saudi Arabia, Dubai, and perhaps Bahrain, maybe even in the winner’s circle to accept a trophy in a race that one or the other sponsored.

The decorous and elegant world of European horse racing at the highest echelon of the sport can’t be what it seems on the surface in summer 2017, not with some of the major players in the Sport of Kings, Queens, and Sheikhs punishing—politically, economically, and militarily–another powerful racing interest over alleged propagation of global terrorism.

Copyright © 2017 Horse Racing Business


  1. The intrigue of it all! Had not thought about the horse racing and international politics link.