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
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Morrissey pictured in 2013
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In my grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service