Clash over a vision of the future

Racing: Overshadowing the rift between Sheikh Mohammed and Henry Cecil is the globalisation of the sport
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The Independent Online
A revealing inaccuracy crept into several reports last week of the falling out between Henry Cecil and Sheikh Mohammed. Cecil, we were told, had grown disillusioned after seeing several of his best horses removed from the yard to join the Sheikh's Godolphin operation in Dubai.

His horses? Since when? Mark Of Esteem and the rest belong to Henry Cecil no more than Les Ferdinand belongs to Kevin Keegan. And it is more than just a sloppy turn of phrase. Rather, it reflects deeply-held opinions - and, let's not deny it, prejudices - which are still thriving despite 20 years of massive investment in the British turf by the major Arab owners.

It is not too difficult to guess the opinion of the general racing public on Mohammed v Cecil. The punters, you suspect, are on Henry's side. At best, this will be down to sentiment, respect for his abilities, and perhaps that British tendency to root for the underdog (after all, he may be a millionaire, but up against Sheikh Mohammed, everyone is an underdog). At worst, however, it betrays an underlying bigotry, resentment that "they" keep coming over here and winning "our" races.

Both extremes would probably express a view that Cecil was a victim of ingratitude, which is a strange inversion of the truth. Leaving aside the fact that gratitude is rarely an element in professional relationships, surely the Sheikh deserved better for the pounds 10,000 he was paying Cecil each week in training fees than to be kept in the dark about the condition of one of his leading two-year-olds.

Of course, the disagreement goes deeper than that, but the Godolphin programme was always going to have its casualties. For more than 200 years, consistent success at the highest level in racing has been the preserve of the unusually wealthy.

The difference between Sheikh Mohammed and previous big spenders such as the old Aga Khan, even Robert Sangster, is simply one of degree. And since money is the mother tongue in Newmarket, its residents can hardly complain if they no longer like what they hear.

Godolphin is Sheikh Mohammed's vision of the future. If one of its consequences is that a few trainers are forced to trade down from a 7 series BMW to a 5, punters and racegoers are unlikely to lose any sleep.

The only important point for them, surely, is that after their winter break in the Middle East, the Sheikh's horses return here. The overall strength of British racing is unaffected, and given the care and attention which Godolphin's horses receive, ante-post punters may even have a better chance of getting a run for their money in the Classics.

Some commentators complain that it is unhealthy for any group of owners to dominate the sport so thoroughly. Again, this may have an unpleasant subtext - "I'm not prejudiced, but..." - but in any case it ignores the irremediable decline which the British racing industry would have suffered without the Maktoums' huge investment. So who is the victim of ingratitude now?

The gossip and speculation surrounding events at Warren Place half-obscured a second announcement last week which may, in the long term, prove much more significant.

Europe's version of the Breeders' Cup will be launched in 1997, and the expected location of its inaugural card is intriguing. Not Britain, France or Ireland, the continent's traditional racing strongholds, but ambitious, upwardly-mobile Germany.

Britain cannot depend on tradition or sentiment to maintain its position in what is now a global racing industry. That it is still a major player at all is due in large part to the Maktoum family. The best that some people can do by way of thanks is to complain that they are too rich, too successful and - in a whisper - too foreign.

Last week's events proved that Henry Cecil does not have a God-given right to Sheikh Mohammed's horses. And more importantly, nor does Britain.

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