11/14/2008 12:00AM

Power has shifted to Middle East

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NEW YORK - In times of economic downturn, one of the first things wealthy men do is sell their racehorses. That was what happened in Europe after World Wars I and II, when the devastation wrought throughout the continent left the upper classes clinging by a thread to their privileged way of life. The quickest and most effective way to maintain a semblance of equilibrium in such circumstances is to unload your Thoroughbreds.

The beneficiaries of the twin 20th century European calamities were we Americans, the victors in both wars from both a military and and economic standpoint. Between 1918 and 1950 Thoroughbred owners in this country set about multiplying the European holdings they had been accumulating through the boom years of the late Industrial Revolution.

Between-the-wars Kentucky Derby winners such as Bubbling Over, Reigh Count, Gallant Fox, and Whirlaway were all sons of European-bred stallions that had been imported to America. Three of the four grandparents of both Man o' War and Omaha were bred in Europe. Calumet Farm's extraordinary mid-20th century success was due largely to the importation of the French-bred stallion Bull Dog, the sire of their foundation sire Bull Lea. The 1955 Kentucky Derby winner Swaps was by the British-bred sire Khaled. The 1956 Derby and Preakness winner Nashua and 1957 Preakness winner Bold Ruler were by the British import Nasrullah. The 1957 Belmont winner Gallant Man was by the Irish-bred Migoli out of the British-bred Majideh. And 1959 Derby winner Tomy Lee was himself a British-bred son of the British import Tudor Minstrel.

What the global market giveth, the global market taketh away. The hammer blows now being dealt to the fortunes of Western capitalists by the unprecedented credit crunch are already having a deleterious effect on American racing. And the beneficiaries this time are the Arabs, most notably Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.

Ever on the lookout for an opportunity to add to his immense Thoroughbred holdings, Sheikh Mohammed has been even busier than usual in recent months on the open bloodstock market. His recent purchase of Bobby Frankel's Hopeful and Champagne winner Vineyard Haven was termed by Frankel as "an offer I couldn't refuse," a mantra that has been repeated around the world of late by owners seeking ready cash, of which there is no shortage in Dubai.

Vineyard Haven will soon be joining Breeders' Cup Juvenile winner Midshipman at Godolphin's Al Quoz training center in Dubai to prepare for what appears to be Sheikh Mohammed's best chance to date of winning the Kentucky Derby. They could be joined in the Run for the Roses by the John Gosden-trained Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf winner Donativum, who, like Breeders' Cup Classic winner Raven's Pass, was picked up by Sheikh Mohammed when he purchased Stonerside Stables Paris, Ky., breeding farm, training center, and 250 horses from Robert and Janice McNair, about one year after he had acquired Stonerside's Saratoga operation, now renamed Greentree Stables.

In August, Sheikh Mohammed bought the Rothschild Stables in Chantilly, France, where Andre Fabre has dropped a dozen longtime owners to train primarily for the ruler of Dubai. Earlier this year, the sheikh invaded Australia to buy Woodlands Stud's 1,000 horses as well as the Crown Lodge Training Center and its 400 horses for a sum reported to be in excess of $400 million.

The world's most powerful horseman has also been very active at this year's yearling sales. After a 5-year absence he returned to Deauville's Arqana August sale to spend $7 million. Dubai interests, including Sheikh Mohammed, his brother Sheikh Hamdan, and Rabbah Bloodstock spent $36.2 million at the Keeneland September sale.

Add to all of this Sheikh Mohammed's purchase of Fasig-Tipton through his Dubai-based Synergy Investments Ltd. in April, the six farms he owns in Japan, his seven in Ireland, Dalham Hall Stud in England, and Jonabell Farm in Kentucky, and it becomes evident that he is an unprecedented phenomenon in the history of racing and breeding, one that will have an impact long after the current financial crisis has passed into history.