Racing: Visionary owner Sheikh Maktoum dies

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The Independent Online

The Flat racing and bloodstock world lost a major player yesterday with the sudden death of Sheikh Maktoum al-Maktoum, the eldest of the three Dubai brothers who revolutionised the sport and industry worldwide. The sheikh, who was 62, suffered a heart attack while in Australia.

Although it is Sheikh Mohammed who has had the highest public profile of the family, the influence of the senior man cannot be understated in terms of influence and support, particularly with the formation of and recruits for the all-conquering Godolphin operation. Some of his best horses - like Balanchine, Fantastic Light, Shamardal and Cape Verdi - recorded their most notable triumphs for the Dubai-based team.

Sheikh Maktoum was the emirate's ruler and was pivotal in the development of its emergence as a racing power. "He was at the centre of everything we have achieved," said Godolphin's racing manager, Simon Crisford. "It was he who first decided that horses should be trained in Dubai to run in top international races. Along with Sheikh Moham-med, he set up Godolphin, was the one who chose the all-blue silks the horses carry and was involved in all the key decisions affecting the stable."

Godolphin's first Group One winner, Balanchine, carried Maktoum's own colours, blue with a white chevron, when she won the 1994 Oaks and then, typically pioneering, beat the colts in the Irish Derby. The sheikh also supplied his family's first three Classic winners, Touching Wood in the 1982 St Leger and Ma Biche and Shareef Dancer in the 1,000 Guineas and Irish Derby the following year. "He is one horse that is often overlooked," said the latter colt's rider Walter Swinburn yesterday. "But he beat the French and English Derby winners and set the ball rolling."

The Maktoum family's greatest rival, John Magnier of the Coolmore empire in Ireland, joined the tributes. "He was a lover of the thoroughbred and made a lasting and important contribution to racing," he said yesterday.

Maktoum's first horse was handicapper Shaab, who started his career with John Dunlop as a two-year-old in 1977 and eventually got off the mark with John Benstead at four. The sheikh's huge Gainsborough racing and breeding operation now stretches across the globe, comprising more than 200 racehorses with 10 trainers, the same number of broodmares in Britain, Ireland, Kentucky and Australia and several leading stallions in Europe and America.

His best runners pre and outside Godolphin included three champion sprinters in Green Desert, Royal Applause and Cadeaux Genereux, all successful at stud, and two Guineas winners in Shadeed and Hatoof.

Last year's British champion trainer Sir Michael Stoute's charges included Shadeed and Fantastic Light before his transfer to Godolphin. "I first trained for Sheikh Maktoum in 1982," he said, "and it is with great sadness I learned of his death. He was a gentleman and a sportsman who made an enormous contribution to our industry."

Mark Johnston, who sent out Shamardal to win the 2004 Dewhurst under the Gainsborough banner, and Ed Dunlop, who trained his patron's last winner, Easy Air at Lingfield in November, are two trainers to have had their careers kick-started by Sheikh Maktoum.

The Sheikh Maktoum empire

BEST HORSES

Balanchine, Cadeaux Genereux, Cape Verdi, Court Masterpiece, Fantastic Light, Favourable Terms, Green Desert, Hatoof, Jet Ski Lady, Lailani, Ma Biche, No Excuse Needed, Pictavia, Royal Applause, Shadeed, Shareef Dancer, Systematic, Touching Wood.

TRAINERS

Sir Michael Stoute, Ed Dunlop, Barry Hills, John Gosden, Marcus Tregoning and Mark Johnston in Britain; Jim Bolger in Ireland, André Fabre and Criquette Head in France; and Neil Drysdale in America. Gainsborough horses for associates also with Mick Channon.

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