Racing: Maktoums move to cut losses

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BRITISH racing was on the quicksands last night following the confirmation from the Maktoum brothers, the rulers of Dubai and the most influential owners in the sport of the last decade, that they are to scale down their interests in this country.

Dissatisfaction with the financial return for their investment means that the Maktoums are to reduce their British strings and concentrate more on racing in France, the United States and Germany.

How many of the 1,000 or so thoroughbreds they have in training here will remain is unclear, but if the four horsemen, the Sheikhs Maktoum, Hamdan, Mohammed and Ahmed al Maktoum, prune severely it would have apocalyptic consequences for British racing.

'We just can't keep going on like this,' Sheikh Mana Al Maktoum, cousin of the brothers, said at Newmarket yesterday. 'Racing is a business and like any business you have to look at the account at the end of the year and see if you are losing a lot so you can shift and change your policy. We can't lose every year.'

The reality is that the Maktoums have never won from the moment Sheikh Mohammed recorded the first major family success with Hatta in 1977. Since then the brothers have acquired some of racing's most celebrated names of recent times, horses such as Nashwan, Mtoto, Oh So Sharp and Salsabil. The rewards have been massive in conventional terms - they won about pounds 2.5m in prize money here last season alone - but they have never kept pace with the outgoings.

The brothers have bought almost insatiably at the world's sales rings, paying up to S10m (pounds 5.7m) for a single colt, and their investment in the sport is estimated at over pounds 1bn. Until now the tradition of British racing has been enough to sustain them, but that lustre has all but worn away. 'We like our racing in Britain,' Sheikh Mana said yesterday. 'It's one of the best in the world.' Even two years ago, no comparison with the rest of the globe would have been entertained.

Discontent has been mounting this year. The Sheikhs' trainers are regular critics of the prize money available in Britain, while Sheikh Mohammed himself expressed grievances about the sport on BBC's Panorama recently. This week the quartet voted with their feet by refusing, for the first time, to attend Newmarket's Tattersalls yearling sales.

It is unlikely that they will ever return with the enthusiasm of old unless the perennial chestnut of the sums bookmakers and government return to British racing is resolved. 'It depends on how racing is here and how it is going to be,' Sheikh Mana said. 'If there is a better chance of getting prize money and reducing costs elsewhere we must go for that.'

The result of such a switch in policy would be most damaging at Newmarket, the home to the vast bulk of the Maktoum horses and the site of their 1500-acre Dalham Hall Stud. 'If they reduced massively it would obviously have very serious consequences for Newmarket, its stable staff and local community,' Anthony Stroud, racing manager to Sheikh Mohammed, said yesterday. 'There's absolutely no doubt about that.'

Today's racing, page 31

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