01/04/2006 1:00AM

Sheikh Maktoum al-Maktoum dies at age 62

Martin Lynch/Mirrorpix
Sheikh Maktoum spent $7.65 million at Keeneland in September.

Sheikh Maktoum bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, the prime minister and vice president of the United Arab Emirates, and one of the world's leading owner-breeders, died Wednesday at the age of 62 in Australia, apparently of a heart attack, the official Emirates news agency announced. He had been vacationing at the Palazzo Versace Hotel on Australia's Gold Coast in Queensland, not far from Brisbane.

Sheikh Maktoum's father, Rashid al-Maktoum, co-founded the United Arab Emirates - of which Dubai is a principal state - along with the recently deceased Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahyan of Abu Dhabi.

Maktoum al-Maktoum was instrumental in changing the face of international racing. With his two younger brothers, Hamdan and Mohammed, he descended upon Kentucky in the 1970's and 1980's armed with riches gleaned from Dubai's oil industry, and the trio spent lavishly at yearling sales. Sheikh Maktoum went as high as $7 million for a Nijinsky yearling colt at the Keeneland July sale in 1985. This past September he visited Kentucky for the first time since 1992, spending $7.65 million at Keeneland's September yearling sale.

The owner of outstanding horses suc as Fantastic Light, Balanchine, Hatoof, Green Dancer, Shareef Dancer, Shadeed, Lailani, and Cadeaux Genereux, Sheikh Maktoum was the owner of Gainsborough Stud, a far-flung breeding operation with bases in Versailles, Ky., and Newbury, England. He also owned Ballysheehan Stud and Woodpark Stud in Ireland. At his death he had horses in training with Neil Drysdale in California; Michael Stoute, Ed Dunlop, Barry Hills, and Mark Johnston in England; and Andre Fabre and Criquette Head-Maarek in France.

In 1992 he teamed with Sheikh Mohammed to found Godolphin, the powerful international racing stable with bases in England and Dubai. Some of the better horses that had run in Sheikh Maktoum's blue and white colors, like Fantastic Light and Shamardal, would eventually be switched to Godolphin, which has made headlines in recent years thanks to the exploits of Daylami, Dubai Millennium, Dubawi, Halling, Lammtarra, Moonshell, Sakhee, and Swain. Sheikh Maktoum was also instrumental in establishing Dubai's Nad Al Sheba Racecourse, home of the world's richest race, the $6 million Dubai World Cup.

Godolphin's racing manager, Simon Crisford, paid tribute to Sheikh Maktoum: "His death is a huge loss to Dubai, but also to the world of horse racing. He was at the very center of everything Godolphin has achieved. It was Sheikh Maktoum who decided that horses should be trained in Dubai to run in top international races. Along with Sheikh Mohammed, he set up Godolphin. He was the one who chose the blue silks our horses carry."

Dubai has declared a 40-day period of mourning in honor of Sheikh Maktoum, who was to be buried Thursday at Umm Harair Cemetery in Bur Dubai. Racing has been cancelled in the United Arab Emirates through Jan. 12.

One of Sheikh Maktoum's younger brothers, Dubai's crown prince Sheikh Mohammed, currently the UAE defense minister, now ascends to the throne of Dubai.