Boasting grandstands that can seat 60,000 spectators, the US$2 million Meydan Racecourse has become symbolic of the grand ambitions of Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.
The ruler of Dubai defied critics and cynics to open the track in 2009 during the height of the global financial crisis and each year it hosts the US$10 million Dubai World Cup, the world’s richest horse race. The track has also been integral to Sheik Mohammed’s ceaseless efforts to promote Dubai and, to a lesser degree, his Godolphin stables.
However, now Sheik Mohammed’s racing empire faces a crisis, with news that a top Godolphin trainer was charged in connection with one of the biggest doping scandals to hit British horse racing.
Mahmood al-Zarooni was charged with violating multiple rules related to banned substances after samples from 11 of his horses at stables in Newmarket, England — including 1000 Guineas favorite Certify — were found to contain traces of anabolic steroids.
Sheik Mohammed has said he was “appalled and angered” to learn about the allegations.
“It is inevitable that Godolphin, as the trainer’s employer, will have suffered damage to its reputation,” said Rupert Arnold, chief executive of the National Trainers Federation.
Sheik Mohammed’s anger is understandable. He is the face of Godolphin and this scandal threatens to undo all the work has done in building one of the world’s biggest stables and using it to showcase Dubai — a city of glistening skyscrapers that has emerged from the desert.
Godolphin has had enormous success, with its horses winning in 12 different countries and earning more than US$1 billion prize in money in the past five years. Al-Zarooni, who became a Godolphin trainer in 2010, trained the last year’s Dubai World Cup winner Monterosso.
“In terms of size it is a very important constituent, not only to the UK, but in the rest of the world,” said Alastair Donald, managing director of the UK-based International Racing Bureau. “It is massive in terms of its success. The number of graded stakes, which are important races, they have 200 Grade 1 winners which is more than anyone else.”
Godolphin on its Web site describes Sheik Mohammad as its “driving force” and the stables allow him to showcase his love for horses.
Godolphin’s case involves traces of two anabolic steroids — drugs that can last several weeks in a horse’s system. They are banned in Britain, but other authorities do allow them to be prescribed out of competition, including in the United Arab Emirates and Australia.
Donald said many people believe al-Zarooni acted alone and that reputation of Sheik Mohammed and the industry as a whole will emerge from this largely unscathed.
Hours after al-Zarooni was charged, Sheik Mohammed said he was locking down the Moulton Paddocks in Newmarket and ordered blood test for all the horses there.