I Did It My Way… (Hopefully)

by Ed Meyer

posted on November 20, 2008 in General Discussion | No Comments >>

Is Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum good for racing? American racing I mean.Just asking the question implies skepticism. And the question will no doubt excite a vigorous protest among the many people Sheikh Mohammed has enriched. Of course he’s good for racing they will say, but by that they really mean he’s good for them. Not necessarily for racing.

Is it good for American racing to take Midshipman, the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile winner, to Dubai? How about Vineyard Haven, the Hopeful and Champagne winner? Of course not. Is it good for racing to retire classic winners such as Bernardini and Raven’s Pass prematurely? Is it good for American racing to buy Street Sense and Hard Spun and then whisk them off to a stallion farm before they’re even full-grown? Of course not.

And so is Sheikh Mohammed good for American racing?

His goal, as he once explained in a Blood-Horse interview, is to win the Kentucky Derby his “own way.” And that way, of course, is to train his Triple Crown prospects through the winter in Dubai. It’s ideal for the purpose because no training time is lost to bad weather – ideal, that is, except for being halfway around the world.

Sheikh Mohammed aspires to see the blue silks of his Godolphin stable in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs. I hesitate to say he dreams of such a victory, but perhaps he does, for indeed many people have dreamed of seeing their silks in the middle of a roseate scene on the first Saturday in May.

But Sheikh Mohammed has taken his pursuit of this goal to an unprecedented level. The only thing that prevents his quest from being obscenely self-indulgent is what he has done in Dubai. He hasn’t been good for American racing, but he has been very good for Dubai racing, building facilities that are unsurpassed, and creating a festival of racing that’s dazzling. And racing will get only better there, only more spectacular, in 2010, when his new racetrack opens.

Horse racing is a negative-sum game: For every winner there are several losers. And Dubai’s victories have meant losses for American racing. Sheikh Mohammed has routinely raided America looking for prospects and then taken them home; he has routinely retired stallion prospects before they’ve fulfilled their potential on the track. That’s not jingoistic, that’s recent history. And how many American horses and trainers will take up residence in Dubai over the next few years?

I applaud Dubai for all its success. But except for the owners and breeders who have sold horses to Sheikh Mohammed, American racing has not gained from his love of the sport. American racing has lost. America’s racing fans have lost, too.

But his passion for the game is unimpeachable; his resources unapproachable. And so more than anybody, Sheikh Mohammed indeed has the potential to be not just good, but great, for racing. For that to happen, he simply has to recognize and acknowlege his responsibility to American racing.