08/10/2010 11:34AM

Sheikh Mohammed Bails Out Kentucky Breeders


The banks have been bailed out. General Motors has been bailed out. And now Kentucky's breeders have been bailed out, not by the federal government, but by the man who runs the government of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum.
The presence of the wheeler-dealer who owns Darley Stud, Gainsborough Farm and Godolphin Racing at Saratoga's Fasig-Tipton Sale last week was not in the least unusual. After all, Sheikh Mohammed owns Fasig-Tipton as well and so has an interest in seeing that things run smoothly. Neither was it unusual to see his trusted agent, John Ferguson, sign the ticket for 14 lots. In all, Sheikh Mohammed dished out $6,445,000 to assorted Kentucky breeders, once again propping up an industry that would be floundering without him.
His purchases at Fasig-Tipton averaged $546,071 this year, nearly twice the overall average of $275,551. It was the same story last August at Saratoga as Sheikh Mohammed was also the leading buyer as Ferguson signed the ticket for 12 lots totaling $11,850,000, or an average of $987,500. By comparison last year's Fasig-Tipton average was $328,434.
Along with his older brother Hamdan Al Maktoum and their late eldest brother Maktoum Al Maktoum, the family has been propping up both the American and the British breeding industries for nearly 30 years. Last year at the first two elite days of the Keeneland September Sale, for instance, Mohammed and Hamdan, the owner of Shadwell Farm, bought 39 head between them for a total outlay of $17,375,000. That comes to an average of $445,512. The overall Keeneland two-day average was just $264,666.
It has been much the same story since the Maktoums first flew into Keeneland in 1980 for the first of their epic bidding duels with Robert Sangster and company. In the winter of 1986, however, the Maktoums summoned Sangster to Dubai where they did the devil's deal in agreeing not to bid against each other at Keeneland or Saratoga. The three Maktoum brothers themselves never had bid against each other at any sale, but this guy Sangster was costing them a lot of money. That infamous gathering in the desert triggered the collapse of the American breeding market in 1986, but it also signaled a sea change in the geography of Kentucky, or at least the names painted on the signs at breeding establishments throughout the Bluegrass State.
When sale prices plunged in '86, many Kentucky farms began going belly up and it was the Arabs who bought them out. Property that had been used to breed Thoroughbreds exclusively for American racing became Darley Stud, Shadwell Farm, Gainsborough Farm and Juddmonte Farm. Most of the horses foaled at these places would be shipped to England, France or Ireland to race there. The loss to American racing was incalculable, but goes largely unreported year after year, the American racing industry preferring to bury its head in the sand under the philosophy of "out of sight, out of mind."
In the meantime, the Maktoums have kept the Kentucky bloodstock afloat with their high spending ways. They also run a number of their horses in America as, along with Saudi Prince Khalid Abdullah's Juddmonte Farms, they are among the leading breeder/owners in America, as most of the biggest American breeders prefer not to race. Instead they breed to sell.
Is this a healthy situation? A quote from what may be the most important book on racing and breeding ever written, Patrick Robinson and Nick Robinson's "Horsetrader", a biography of Robert Sangster, is as pertinent today as when the book was published in 1993.
"In the early 80's there was an unmistakable feeling at training establishments all over the USA and Europe that none of this (the racing) counted as the prime object any more; that breeders were breeding horses for the stud, to breed other horses for the stud; that the only thing that counted was the 'paper', the pedigrees and the yearling sales...All the big money was in breeding. The actual sport of horse racing was getting left behind the industry which was supposed to support it"
Twenty-five years later, we may be moving into an era when the breeding industry is no longer able to support itself without what amount to Maktoum-sponsored subsidies.