Racing: Sheikh Mohammed demonstrates his staying power

Although he has threatened to withdraw from racing in Britain, Sheikh Mohammed's perseverance could not be faulted in an endurance race in Dubai yesterday. Adam Szreter saw him in action.

Despite his heritage, it was still strange to see the slight figure of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, kitted out in full endurance-racing regalia and taking time off from the altogether more serious pursuit of putting the frighteners on the British horse-racing business.

Last week the biggest spender in the sport in Britain was busy making unveiled threats to withdraw his horses from the country unless there are radical funding changes. Yesterday he appeared suddenly, somewhere in the Arabian Desert, about 40 miles outside Dubai.

It was half past four in the morning as Sheikh Mohammed arrived to weigh in for the race, billed as the Desert Giants and part of the International Equestrianism Federation's World Endurance Championship.

Three of his sons were there as well, and a host of other movers and sheikhs. The objective of endurance racing is not speed, but to test the combined efforts of man and beast as they attempt to tackle a 120km course through rough terrain, without putting undue pressure on the beast.

In this race there were four stages, with a 30 minute break between each. Horses' pulse rates are regularly checked by vets to see if their riders are overworking them, thereby incurring penalties, while the first 20 horses home at the end are dope tested. The use of whips and spurs is strictly forbidden.

The nags themselves are some former racers, some thoroughbreds, some pure Arab and most of them owned by Sheikh somebody bin somebody Mak somebody. There was British interest in the shape of Wendy McCawley on Time Traveller, whom she also trains for Sheikh Mohammed.

McCawley finished well down a field that was dominated by Hassan bin Ali on Mr Junabee, owned, by way of variation, by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid, another of the Maktoum brothers who have so transformed racing in Britain.

Mr Junabee's only serious problem appeared to be an inability to slow down, thus risking the chance of a heart-rate penalty and possible elimination. Taking water on board as the sun shone after lunch seemed to tax his rider too, as he missed the catch every time anyone threw him a bottle.

In the end the driver was virtually hurling them at him, before offering his advice to the eventual winner who was, understandably, a little put out by the running commentary.

The offender could content himself with chucking a four-wheel drive around the desert and at times it was hard to work out just what the real event was, with more than 50 vehicles performing cartwheels in the sand behind the leading horses.

Sheikh Mohammed was happy to sit just off the pace among the 40 or so competitors, eventually finishing joint sixth before plonking himself down on the floor to tuck into a meal with family and guests in clear view of anyone who cared to ogle.

The winner, Hassan bin Ali, had arrived to a great fanfare and an embrace from Sheikh Mohammed's oldest son, Sheikh Rashid. There was no prize money for Hassan, just the honour of becoming the UAE's representive in next year's world championship, which the Emirates are hoping to host. The game may have moved on, as they say, but there would be no more fitting stage as the race-organiser, Faisal Seddiq, explained.

"Our forefathers and their's before them used to stage marathon endurance tests, especially during weddings of Bedouins and royals, or any important people who could afford to give something to the others."

As far as the good sheikh was concerned, Seddiq said: "He always takes part, and he's one of the good, disciplined riders. I'm sure he was attempting to qualify for the world championship - he's keen."

The race had started at 6am and was still going 12 hours later. The star stayed just long enough to answer one question about the UK: "I think the right time to talk about that will be at the Dubai World Cup," Sheikh Mohammed said, looking forward to the richest race in the world in March. "That way I can talk to many people," he added, and with that he was gone.

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Oscar Pistorius is led out of court in Pretoria. Pistorius received a five-year prison sentence for culpable homicide by judge Thokozile Masipais for the killing of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp
voicesThokozile Masipa simply had no choice but to jail the athlete
Arts and Entertainment
Sister Cristina Scuccia sings 'Like a Virgin' in Venice

Like Madonna, Sister Cristina Scuccia's video is also set in Venice

Arts and Entertainment
James Blunt's debut album Back to Bedlam shot him to fame in 2004

Singer says the track was 'force-fed down people's throats'

Life and Style
The Tinder app has around 10 million users worldwide

techThe original free dating app will remain the same, developers say

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

IT Project Manager

Competitive: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Chelmsford a...

KS2 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day + Flexible with benefits: Randstad Education Group: Key St...

Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

English Teacher Full Time & Part time.

£100 - £160 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: This outstanding school in the ...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album