Council leaders in Newmarket say closure would be massive blow to UK horseracing town
Newmarket, the English town at the centre of the Godolphin horse doping scandal, is 100 percent behind owner Sheikh Mohammed and local politicians have urged him not to permanently close the facilities as it would be a “massive blow” to the area and put up to a 1,000 jobs at risk.
Last week Godolphin’s owner, Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, revealed his stables in Newmarket are to temporarily close while dope tests are carried out on all racehorses, after trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni was found to have administered illegal steroids to 11 horses in his care.
While the stables have been put on lock down as part of an investigation by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) and none of the yard’s horses will be run until tests have been completed, local political leaders said a decision by Godolphin to permanently close or downgrade the facilities would be “a massive blow” to the area.
“Sheikh Mohammed has been and remains a massive benefactor to this area,” John Berry, a councilor for Newmarket Town Council, told Arabian Business.
“Directly and indirectly, I am sure about 1,000 jobs in the area would be dependent on his patronage. If he were to reduce his interests it would be very bad and if he were to terminate them it would be even worse.”
“[Horse racing] is a huge part of the local economy,” added Mark Bee, chairman and leader of Suffolk County Council. “Obviously we would be concerned that this would have a huge impact on the economy here so we wouldn’t want to see that happen.”
Al Zarooni, who described his actions as "a catastrophic error", has admitted using prohibited steroids to dope racehorses and has been banned for eight years.
"Godolphin is fully cooperating with the British Horseracing Authority to get to the bottom of this matter and take any appropriate disciplinary action," Sheikh Mohammed said, adding he was appalled and angered about the case.
Berry said Sheikh Mohammed was a very popular figure in the area and still held the support of the local industry. “It goes far beyond the fact that he is the biggest employer… Leaving employment aside, he has been a wonderful benefactor to the town and there are so many local projects and charities and he has been a force for good for the town and this area,” he said.
“Goldolphin is a key part of Newmarket. They provided a great deal of money to build a Pavilion on our open land in the centre of the town,” said fellow Newmarket Town councilor Warwick Hirst.
“I cannot conceive of Newmarket without them. All the town is 100 percent behind them in this period. I am sure they will quickly sort it out and continue their wonderful association with our town.”
BHA chief executive Paul Bittar echoed these sentiments and said he would be doing everything he can to encourage Sheikh Mohammed to stay in racing in the UK, despite the recent doping scandal.
In an interview with BBC Radio 5 Live, he said there was no reason to punish the Dubai ruler, whose operation has won more than 200 top-level Group One races since 1992.
"Sheikh Mohammed has been by far and away the most significant investor to British racing but as the regulator, we treat everyone equally," Bittar told the BBC. "We'll be doing everything we can to encourage him to stay involved."
He added: "I'm not worried about upsetting him but I'd love to ensure he remained as keen to be involved, invest and to get enjoyment out of British racing as he had and I'm sure right now he's not enjoying it as much as he normally might do."
“What I am everyone would like to see is Sheikh Mohammed completely exonerated after an exhaustive and in-depth inquiry and hopefully that will take place,” Berry added.