Lifestyle & Belief

Kentucky Derby: Dubai's Sheikh Mohammed sets his sights on a victory at Churchill Downs


Optimizer is riden on the track during the morning excercise session in preparation for the 138th Kentucky Derby at Churchill Downs on April 29, 2012 in Louisville, Kentucky. Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai is hoping that his thoroughbred Alpha will win this year's race.


Matthew Stockman

The Kentucky Derby has been the focus of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum's horse racing efforts for over a decade. 

The ruler of Dubai is known for his avid thoroughbred breeding and racing, and while he has emerged victorious from many of the world's top horse races, he has yet to win a Kentucky Derby, NBC News reported.

"The Kentucky Derby is a more difficult race to win than I first believed," Sheikh Mohammed told ESPN

But he vowed to return to the classic horse race, which kicks off on May 4, every year until he could win — and many believe that this could be his year. The Daily Racing Form (DFR), a website devoted to covering the horse racing season, began speculating in January that the Sheik could have a shot at Churchill Downs this May. 

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The sheikh's Derby strategy has always been to ship his horses in from Dubai to Louisville, NBC News reported. This year, however, he has kept his Derby hopeful Alpha in the United States with the horse's original trainer, Kiaran McLaughlin.

Alpha has done well so far this winter, NBC News reported, taking impressive wins in the Count Fleet and Withers races at Aqueduct in New York. 

"You couldn’t blame Sheikh Mohammed if he woke up Sunday morning with the feeling that he has his best chance yet of winning the coveted first leg of the US Triple Crown," wrote DFR's Mike Watchmaker after the Aqueduct races.  

The Sheik's passion for horse-racing knows no financial boundaries: He is consistently one of the top buyers at horse sales across the globe, ESPN reported. In September of 2006, for example, he spent $58.6 million in three days at the Keeneland yearling sale.

For the Middle Eastern leader, winning the Derby is a matter of pride and heritage, as NBC News pointed out. His 20-year-old racing unit, Godolphin, is named after a breed of thoroughbred that originated in the Middle East, according to NBC News. 

"A love for horses runs in my blood," Sheikh Mohammed has said, NBC reported. "Don't forget that horses have been bred for centuries by Arabic tribes, they were used for hunting and fighting and they symbolize our history. Horse riding is more than merely sitting on a horse's back. It is nobility and chivalry."

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