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Sun 17 Jun 2018 11:35 AM

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How Dubai's Godolphin became a world leader in horse racing

Huge investments have gone into making Godolphin the largest stable in the world. But what's the motivation behind this commitment to the sport and the racing community in general? Arabian Business goes to Newmarket, the team's UK headquarters, to find out what explains this passion for horse racing

How Dubai's Godolphin became a world leader in horse racing
Moulton Paddocks is one of Godolphin’s two training yards in Newmarket, England

If you have just a passing interest in horses then the Godolphin HQ in Newmarket is a site to behold.

An immaculate state-of-the-art facility set among gentle hills and wooded copses, it is the largest racing stable in the world, housing some of its most valuable horses and employing the best jockeys and trainers in the business.

A huge amount of detail has gone into making Godolphin a giant in international horse racing since it began in 1992, and this is the headquarters for the entire operation.

On an early morning at Moulton Paddocks, groups of jockeys return from early morning ride-outs in various directions from across the estate.

The riders will return their horses to a temperature-controlled seawater walker, which helps cool them down after training. Nearby is an adjustable treadmill and a solarium system for topping up vitamin D levels.

The stables themselves are grouped into a couple of vast squares that are swept to perfection. Behind various doors, vets, stable hands and a multitude of other employees beaver away with their allotted tasks.

World’s greatest stallions

A smaller paddock hosts one of the true success stories of Godolphin. Dubawi is one of the world’s greatest stallions, sired by the great Dubai Millennium and trained by Saeed bin Suroor. A superb racer who now commands over a million dirhams in stud fees, it’s hard to put a figure on just how valuable Dubawi is to Godolphin.

The man who created all this, of course, is Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, and ruler of Dubai.

Over the past 25 years, the team he started has become the biggest in the world, spanning four continents, employing 1,500 people to look after 4,500 horses.

The Newmarket HQ has state-of-the-art training facilities for the horses

Godolphin owns 10,000 acres of land around Newmarket in Suffolk, approximately 100 kilometres north of London.

The small market town is generally considered to be the birthplace and global centre of thoroughbred horseracing and it’s hard to overstate just how important a role Sheikh Mohammed has played in keeping the sport popular and profitable.

In the blood

Godolphin has deep ties with the industry and has made many investments in the horse racing community.

Aside from Moulton Paddocks and Godolphin Stables (the summer base of trainer Saeed bin Suroor), the Dubai-sponsored Future Champions Festival held at Newmarket racecourse is a two-day event that hosts the most valuable Group One two-year-old contests in Europe, each offering a £500,000 prize (AED2.3m).

The weekend is also an opportunity to highlight Sheikh Mohammed’s contribution to nurturing young people around the world, particularly in equestrianism, business and innovation.

Newmarket’s National Heritage Centre for Horseracing and Sporting Art

One such initiative is the Godolphin Flying Start competition, a unique training programme founded in 2003 for students keen on entering the racehorse business.

Twelve candidates are selected each year to join the two-year full scholarship, making the industry accessible to anyone with a passion, regardless of their background.

There’s no obligation to work for Godolphin so every year those dozen graduates take their experiences into the wider industry. And the statistics for what happens next speak for themselves. Twelve years into the programme, there are 142 alumni working in 20 countries, 50 percent of whom are owners or managers.

There is also an opportunity for young UAE nationals to experience the world of international thoroughbred racing and breeding through Masar Godolphin, launched this year.

A huge amount of detail has gone into making Godolphin a giant in international horse racing”

Godolphin also has initiatives in the wider community as well as the horse industry itself. Education Week coincides with Future Champions, where 150 year-eight pupils from Newmarket Academy take part in a five-day programme structured around the racing industry.

This also forms part of the Godolphin Beacon Project, which includes a £250,000 (AED1.2m) investment to boost employment opportunities for students by offering unique access to the industry.

Nick Froy is the principal of Newmarket Academy. He outlines his gratitude to Sheikh Mohammed and Godolphin, before outlining how community funding doesn’t come with strings attached.

“His contribution has been discreet. The community is really only just beginning to be aware of how significant his support has been to the racing industry and wider community over the years and there’s a respect for the way he has done it.”

Godolphin Flying Start helps youngsters enter the industry

There’s also the Stud and Stable Staff Awards. First held in 2005, it celebrates the unsung people who are the backbone of the industry. Laura Winstanley won the Newcomer Award for 2016 and she tells Arabian Business: “I think it’s vital to the future of racing because it is people who make racing happen. And it’s never just a job; we all put our hearts and souls into the horses.”

Amy Starkey, managing director of Newmarket Racecourse, is a good person to speak to for an overview of what these Godolphin-backed initiatives mean to the local community. She points to the statistic that 20,000 people live in Newmarket along with 5,500 racehorses at peak season.

“A significant number of those come from Dubai,” she says.

Tattersalls in Newmarket was established in 1766 and is Europe’s leading bloodstock auctioneer

As a Newmarket town councillor, she’s well aware that 40 percent of the people who live in her ward are working in jobs associated with the racing industry.

“A significant percentage of that number will come under the banner of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed’s operation, so the partnership of racing in Newmarket with Dubai is absolutely integral to our future,” she says.

Starkey thinks a lot about the future of the horse racing industry. In 2016, Newmarket celebrated 350 years of racing since King Charles II brought the sport to the town (there’s a museum part-funded by Sheikh Mohammed to tell that story).

“We have a job to ensure that we continue that legacy for at least another 350 years,” says Starkey, and she’s grateful that Sheikh Mohammed and Godolphin share her desire to look to the future of the sport.

And of course there is the task of caring for the horses themselves. Godolphin Lifetime Care finds ex-racehorses new homes and new careers for different equine disciplines such as eventing, dressage, polo or hunting. Some can make perfect “happy hackers” for riders of a reasonable standard.

His Highness’ contribution has been discreet and there’s a respect for the way he has done it”

On the map

One racing insider that Arabian Business speaks to compares the development of Goldolphin to the growth of Dubai itself.

When replying to the question: “Why put so much energy and commitment into building something to be the biggest and the best?” His reply is simple: “Why not?”

There’s yet another way of looking at why Sheikh Mohammed has built Godolphin into being the best in the business, and also his investments in making that the future of that business a bright one.

On the Godolphin website there’s a timeline that tracks the development of horse racing and key moments in the Godolphin story.

The journey starts way back in 1684 with the birth of Byerley Turk, one of the three foundation sires of the modern thoroughbred, which shows how significant horses are in Arabian culture.

Fast forward three centuries to 1967 and Sheikh Mohammed, along with his brother Sheikh Hamdan, saw their first horse race in the UK. A decade later he had his first victory with the filly Hatta, and went on to purchase Dalham Hall stud farm in Newmarket in 1981.

In 1994, he established Godolphin – named after the Godolphin Arabian, one of the three stallions that came from Arabia to Europe in the 1700s, from which all thoroughbred racehorses descend – that expanded to be the worldwide institution it is today.

Future Champions at Newmarket Racecourse is sponsored by Dubai

Interestingly, alongside this story is a timeline of the development of Dubai itself.

This includes the dredging of the Creek, the expansion of the dry docks, the inauguration of Emirates airline, and all the developments that have made it a city known around the world for pushing boundaries and achieving what others say is impossible.

And over the past 25 years Godolphin has become a showcase for this vision. It’s a commitment to build something permanent that, much like Dubai itself, will leave a great legacy.

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