Sheikh speaks out on Cecil

Richard Edmondson reports from Dubai on the latest twist to the public split between a top owner and leading trainer

Sheikh Mohammed, and the Maktoum family as a whole, handle their trainers like some people treat their training shoes. They will only get rid of them as a last resort.

The simple logic applied is that Dubai's rulers are happy to grant loyalty as long as it also comes to them on the other side of the carriageway. Last year, though, Sheikh Mohammed felt Henry Cecil's steering had become too erratic and, on the night of the long line of horseboxes in Newmarket, he removed all his horses from Warren Place. Yesterday, sitting in the middle of a mound of cushions in his tent at the Al Quoz stables, he explained why.

The single incident that provoked the split came just before the Royal Lodge Stakes at Ascot last year. Cecil said he wanted to run the promising colt Mark Of Esteem but could not gain Sheikh Mohammed's permission. The owner replied that the horse was injured and should never have been a consideration for the race. "I can cope with most things but I can't cope with somebody letting the whole world know that I'm stopping a horse from running in a big race and yet the horse is lame," the Sheikh said yesterday. "I can't take that. When that trust goes everything goes.''

The discord between the two men had been in place for some time, however. While for some the racehorse is a rich man's trophy, for Sheikh Mohammed, who is just about the wealthiest of the lot, the sport is about participation. He likes to put in his 10 dirhams worth, and his thoughts were not always in line with Cecil's.

"The problem is that I am a horseman, not just an owner," he said. "Therefore I want to know. I want to get involved, I want to interfere. The pleasure is being part of my horses, not just turning up in a smart suit and watching them at the racecourse.

"Before I went to Henry Cecil he was champion trainer, a great trainer, and he was when I was with him and I'm sure he will be in the future. But Henry wants his own way. I kept tackling him and a friendly fight was always there.

"He would not come my way and I would not go his, so I knew neither of us would enjoy it. So I decided it would be better to cut it clean. It was for my sake and his sake. I have nothing personal against Henry Cecil. If everything changed, and he understood the way I think, there is nothing stopping me going back with him.''

Mark Of Esteem is still bothered intermittently by an arthritic spur on one of his knees, but he has thrived in Arabia this winter. "We are very happy with this horse and I think that he is good," the Sheikh said on an inspection of his Godolphin-owned three-year-old.

This plain statement was enough to prompt Mike Dillon, representing the bookmakers Ladbrokes, to cut the colt's price to 7-1 (from 9-1) for the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket on 4 May, which will be his first race of the season.

The favourite at 5-4 is Alhaarth, who is owned by the man who used to stick up for Sheikh Mohammed in the playground, his elder brother Sheikh Hamdan.

Mark Of Esteem apart, the Godolphin wintering unit has yet to unearth the same sort of talents that swept the board in Europe last season.

"Last year was wonderful and that doesn't happen every year," Sheikh Mohammed said. "We have good horses but we don't have another Lammtarra. These horses are more exposed and I would be happy if we win one Classic anywhere in Europe.''

With the Emirates' worst spell of weather for 60 years now behind him and the runners for tomorrow's inaugural Dubai World Cup all in place and bedded in, the Sheikh's pulse has slowed. "I promise you I am not nervous any more," he said. "I am very relaxed.''

He will, however, have to face a conundrum when Godolphin's forces have to be restocked later in the year. "There is only one big problem left," he said. "There are no more Henry Cecil horses for me to take away.''

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