Dubai’s Ruler Is Entangled in a Kentucky Derby Controversy

In 2018, Sheikha Latifa, 35, fled Dubai in a yacht, but was turned over to Emirati security officers by Indian commandos who had raided the boat and seized her. She has not been seen in public since, except for an appearance at a lunch attended by Mary Robinson, a former president of Ireland. At the time, Robinson said Sheikha Latifa was mentally troubled and receiving good care from her family, only to later tell the BBC she had been “horribly tricked.”

Here in Kentucky, where the bluegrass is seeded with Sheikh Mohammed’s riches, no one wants to talk about him beyond the chances of Essential Quality finally delivering him the blanket of roses.

After all, Sheikh Mo, as he is known here, is a one-man economic impact event. He employs hundreds of Kentuckians. Most Septembers, he arrives at Blue Grass Airport by private jumbo jet for the Keeneland yearling sale. He examines horses alongside hardboot breeders and owners, often sporting a windbreaker in the royal blue of his family’s Godolphin racing stable.

And Sheikh Mo spends — hundreds of millions of dollars, so far, winning some auctions and driving up prices on the horses that he underbids on.

As Arthur Hancock III, a fourth-generation thoroughbred breeder, once put it: “If one September that big old plane wasn’t at the airport, you would have a whole lot of hearts sinking around here.”

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission did not respond to a request for comment. Jimmy Bell, the president of Darley America, declined to be interviewed about the sheikh or his American operation.

Shannon Arvin, the new president and chief executive of Keeneland, said the sales company dealt mostly with Bell and his staff.

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