Despite being vice-president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, 70, is very much a part of the British establishment.
The billionaire sheikh is on friendly terms with the British royal family and spends a considerable amount of time at his multiple UK residences. In June last year, just over a month after initiating proceedings against Princess Haya in the high court, he received a trophy from the Queen when one of his horses won a race at Royal Ascot.
He spent time studying in Cambridge and then attending cadet school in Aldershot before returning to Dubai to help drive the emirate’s development. But above all, he is a face of horse racing through the world-renowned Godolphin stable.
It would be hard to overstate the sheikh’s importance to British flat racing, which has soaked up colossal amounts of his money in the decades since Hatta became his first winner , at Brighton in 1977. His two giant stables in Newmarket, at Moulton Paddocks and Stanley House, are just the beginning of his holdings in the town that calls itself racing’s HQ.
Since 1981, he has bought up 12 formerly independent studs and united them under the banner of Darley, a global breeding operation. He is believed to own other stables in Newmarket that are not so closely associated with the Godolphin empire, including Warren Place, purchased after the death of Sir Henry Cecil, who trained Frankel there.
While he owns hundreds of racehorses directly, in yards across the country, many others are owned by his associates or family members. Insiders estimated on Thursday that well over half of all the racehorses in Newmarket could be linked to him one way or another and he is a major employer there. “If he decided to leave, the economy in this town could collapse,” one said.
Those who breed racehorses and sell them as yearlings have long hoped their animals would catch the sheikh’s eye. He set last year’s European record for a yearling with £3.78m for a colt in a Newmarket auction and has spent similar sums on many occasions.
The sheikh, who became crown prince of Dubai in 1995, has been credited with directing the emirate’s dramatic transformation and its international standing, including through the “Destination Dubai” tourism brand.
In 2001, he announced plans for the famous Palm Jumeirah, a tree-shaped sand and rock formation, one of a number of projects aimed at attracting international visitors.
An accomplished poet and horse rider, he became ruler of Dubai after the death of his elder brother in 2006. The UAE official website hails his philanthropy and describes him as a “people’s person”.
His reputation has to date largely survived revelations surrounding his racing stable’s involvement in horse-doping in 2013 and questions surrounding his role in the 2000 disappearance of his daughter Shamsa, reported first by the Guardian, and that of Latifa, who, to greater publicity, was forcibly returned to Dubai in 2018.
Towards the beginning of the judgment, Sir Andrew McFarlane, the president of the family division, described the sheikh as “a man of international prominence whose position and international standing justify a high level of respect”.
After McFarlane’s explosive conclusions, it is unclear whether his flattering description still holds.