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Carson salutes ‘gentleman’ Sheikh Hamdan and recalls the golden years

Willie Carson described Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum’s death as a “gigantic loss” for the racing industry, as he recounted the almost endless list of big-race successes he enjoyed in the famous blue and white colours.

Carson enjoyed a long spell as retained rider for the influential owner-breeder, who has died, aged 75, partnering many of his most brilliant performers.

The former champion recalled how Sheikh Hamdan had changed the course of his own career, and that of Major Dick Hern – the trainer who masterminded the campaigns of such luminaries as Nashwan and Dayjur.

“He was a gentleman, a really nice man,” Carson told Sky Sports Racing.

“The lease was not going to be renewed for (Hern’s) West Ilsley stables and Dick was a bit taken aback by that and the first thing he said was ‘I’m retiring’. I thought ‘it looks like I’d better retire as well’.

A triumphant Willie Carson aboard Derby hero Nashwan
A triumphant Willie Carson aboard Derby hero Nashwan (PA)

“That was just coming into our minds at that time, but after riding a piece of work at Newbury racecourse, Angus Gold, Sheikh Hamdan’s racing manager, was there and I first mentioned – it might have been a bit of a joke, but maybe not – ‘why don’t you ask Hamdan if I could be his retained jockey?’ and that’s how it happened.”

Nashwan mopped up a string of headline prizes in the 1989 season, winning the 2000 Guineas, Derby, Eclipse and King George, while Dayjur was an untouchable sprinter a year later – with 1990 also seeing the great mare Salsabil carry all before her.

Carson said: “We had Nashwan, Dayjur, Salsabil – all champions in their own right. They’re the ones that come to mind and Erhaab, of course, who won the Derby.

“We made (the King George) into a sprint that day (Nashwan won) because he had those four Group One races in three months and he shouldn’t have run in the race because he was tired and he never really recovered from that. But what a magnificent mover he was.

“(Dayjur) was the fastest I’ve ever ridden and I would say the fastest anyone has ever ridden.

“When the track record was broken at York by his own horse (Battaash in the Nunthorpe), by a tenth of a second, straight away Hamdan said ‘Dayjur had a headwind’. He didn’t want anything taken away from Dayjur.”

Dayjur famously suffered a heartbreaking defeat at the Breeders’ Cup when snatching defeat from the jaws of victory as he jumped a shadow near the finish.

Carson said: “I don’t really know (how Sheikh Hamdan took the defeat) because I never saw him after the race. I couldn’t believe what had just happened.”

Carson also famously steered a wide path aboard Bahri in the 1995 QEII Stakes at Ascot, racing under the trees in the early stages in search of better ground before sprinting six lengths clear in the straight, a manoeuvre that became known as the ‘Bahri route’.

He said: “I discussed what I was going to do with Richard Hills (rider of the owner’s second-string) on the way out to the paddock and I told Hamdan in the paddock what the plan was. There were 10 seconds, then 20 seconds, of silence and I thought ‘oh dear, I’m getting the sack here’. Then he just said ‘do it’.”

Sheikh Hamdan’s passion for racing spawned the Shadwell breeding empire and Carson was keen to underline his interest in not only events on the track, but also in the paddocks.

Salsabil (right) beat the colts in the Irish Derby
Salsabil (right) beat the colts in the Irish Derby (PA)

He explained: “He was a man who enjoyed not just winning races, he enjoyed the breeding side – he enjoyed knowing about his horses. If there was a really important piece of work before a big race, he’d be ringing up from Dubai to ask how it went, what your feelings were and how the horse was.

“He was interested in the horse. What a brain he had – sharp – but a very compassionate man.

“It’s not just a major loss – it’s a gigantic loss. People in the racing industry will be very sad to hear of his passing, he was possibly one of the biggest well-thought of names worldwide.

“He would try to buy the best horses for his trainers and he was very loyal to anyone who started training for him. He always kept going back and giving them more yearlings.”

Hugely influential owner-breeder Sheikh Hamdan dies, aged 75

Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum has died, at the age of 75.

Sheikh Hamdan, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, was a hugely prominent owner of a string of Classic and Royal Ascot winners for more than 30 years.

His blue-and-white colours, under the livery of his Shadwell Racing banner, are among the most famous throughout the racing world.

A triumphant Willie Carson aboard Derby winner Nashwan
A triumphant Willie Carson aboard Derby winner Nashwan (PA)

On Wednesday morning Sheikh Hamdan’s younger brother Sheikh Mohammed posted on Twitter: “We belong to God and to Him we shall return … May God have mercy on you, my brother, my support and my companion.”

Among the best of Sheikh Hamdan’s many Group One winners, he was most widely associated with 1989 Derby and 2000 Guineas winner Nashwan, the brilliant 1990 dual Classic-winning filly Salsabil and outstanding sprinters of different generations in Dayjur and Battaash.

Others to have carried his silks included Oaks and King George heroine Taghrooda, another Derby victor in Erhaab and two winners of the Melbourne Cup in the shape of At Talaq and Jeune, who triumphed at Flemington in 1986 and 1994 respectively.

Shadwell issued the following statement on their website: “It is with great sadness that Shadwell announces the death of His Highness, Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum. He died peacefully on Wednesday 24th March 2021.

Salsabil (right), winning the Irish Derby in 1990 with Willie Carson in the saddle
Salsabil (right), winning the Irish Derby in 1990 with Willie Carson in the saddle (PA)

“It is a time to reflect on his achievements and his enormous contribution to the global thoroughbred industry. His legacy will live on through his horses.

“Everyone at Shadwell is so proud to have worked for such a loyal, generous, humble and wise man.”

Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation was among the first to pay tribute.

A tweet on the official account read: “Everyone at Godolphin is deeply saddened to hear of the death of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum. A great loss to Dubai and our sport. He was one of the greatest owner breeders of modern times. Our deepest condolences to His Family and all @ShadwellStud.”

Richard Hills was Sheikh Hamdan’s retained rider from 1997 until his retirement in 2012 and continued to work for him under the Shadwell banner as assistant racing manager.

“It’s really sad. We’re all devastated. From 17 years old, throughout my whole career to now,” he said.

“He was such a great man, he was like a father to me.

Nayef wins the 2001 Dubai Champion Stakes at Newmarket in the hands of Richard Hills
Nayef wins the 2001 Dubai Champion Stakes at Newmarket in the hands of Richard Hills (Haydn West/PA)

“We had some great times. I was in a lucky position. He was my friend, and I was riding his horses, which was his passion. It was joy all the way through.

“Every one of the Classic winners I rode him meant everything to me – four Guineas, an Oaks and a Leger. All of them were special.

“Nayef was great because he was out of Height Of Fashion. He was tough and he won six Group Ones. There was Almutawakel who won the Dubai World Cup.

“I rode 550 winners in Dubai. I don’t think I took a week off for 15 years.

“It was a joy to get up in the morning and ride those horses.”

Sheikh Hamdan's racing manager Angus Gold
Sheikh Hamdan’s racing manager Angus Gold (PA)

His long-standing racing manager Angus Gold believes it was Sheikh Hamdan’s passion that was the key to his success.

“It’s a very say day. From my point of view he was an amazing man, and we spoke for the first 25 years nearly every day – whether about horses or just about what was going on in the world,” Gold told Sky Sports Racing.

“He’s been a lot busier recently, so I didn’t bother him quite so much, but he’s been more than a boss.

“To have the sort of success he had you’ve got to have the passion – and he had that in abundance. He absolutely loved the business – particularly the breeding, as everyone knows. A home-bred Classic winner was the highlight for him. That’s why Nashwan was so special and close to his heart, as he always said.

“He was absolutely passionate about the business. He loved going to look at the foals and the yearlings and to see them on the racecourse – I’m sure that’s what kept him going for so long. He was so passionate about it.

“It was a truly global operation – America, Australia and South Africa – and when Dubai opened up he loved having runners and winners there in his homeland, so his influence was very global. We were very lucky he played such a big part in it.

“It was wonderful to talk to a man who was so immersed in the whole thing, the fact he was very busy in his own right in Dubai and obviously a rich and powerful man, yet what he loved was talking about his horses.

“He would often ring me about the smallest thing that you wouldn’t think he had time to notice – but he watched every runner and had very strong opinions.

“It’s too early to talk about what the future will bring. We will wait and see what Sheikh Hamdan’s family want to do, but I think just from the breeding point of view some of the families he has helped develop over the last 40 years will be around for a long time to come.”

Tregoning hails Sheikh Hamdan’s ‘passion for racing’

Trainer Marcus Tregoning recalled a man with a great “love for racing” and sense of humour as he led the tributes to Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum.

The Deputy Ruler of Dubai, and owner of a string of Classic and Royal Ascot winners, has died at the age of 75.

He was associated with a succession of the most famous racing figures of the past 30 years, both equine and human.

Nashwan and jockey Willie Carson return after their 1989 Derby victory
Nashwan and jockey Willie Carson return after their 1989 Derby victory (PA)

Tregoning has known Sheikh Hamdan for even longer, having first met him as assistant to Dick Hern – trainer of 1989 Derby winner Nashwan, in his famous blue-and-white silks.

“I’ve been associated with Sheikh Hamdan’s operation for over 40 years, and it’s been a great one for me,” said Tregoning.

“Our association started in the early 1980s when Sheikh Hamdan bought Height Of Fashion from the Queen.

“That was the start of the horses coming to West Ilsley, which was where Dick Hern was training.”

Among those earliest arrivals were siblings Nashwan and multiple Group winner Unfuwain.

From those days of “tremendous excitement” right up until the Sussex Stakes-winning campaign of Mohaather just last season, Tregoning has treasured Sheikh Hamdan’s company as well as his brilliant horses.

“The early ones were Unfuwain and Nashwan – both out of Height Of Fashion,” he said.

“It was a tremendous excitement getting those, and it snowballed from there.

“We’ve had a long happy association, because we’ve had so many good ones.

“Sheikh Hamdan’s enthusiasm for racing was such good fun.

“Obviously, we’ll all miss him. It was just tremendous times we had, with all those good horses.”

Tregoning, who went on to train a Derby winner, Sir Percy, in his own right for another owner Anthony Pakenham, credits Sheikh Hamdan for helping to underpin his career.

“I was lucky enough to take over from Dick Hern when he retired – and in many ways, I suppose I wouldn’t have trained a Derby winner if I hadn’t had Sheikh Hamdan’s support,” he added.

“He was always good fun, and loved it – he had great passion for racing.

“Mubtaker was a very serious Group horse year after year after year, and still racing at the age of nine.

Mubtaker was another prolific winner in the famous blue-and-white silks
Mubtaker was another prolific winner in the famous blue-and-white silks (David Davies/PA

“When he was second in the Arc to Dalakhani, it was like he’d won the Arc for Sheikh Hamdan – he was so proud of him. He came up and stroked him, and it was extraordinary.”

The same qualities were apparent on gallop visits too.

Tregoning added: “A couple of years ago he was here with me at Whitsbury, having the usual banter and usual fun – and loving seeing all his horses.

“What a lot of people didn’t see, which I was very lucky to see, was his sense of humour.

“He had a great love, a passion for racing, and he loved talking about the horses and looking at them and talking about their pedigree, their temperaments – and what they might do.

“I have to say he was very easy to train for, because generally speaking he’d leave most of it to me.

“But obviously he had tremendous input too, and it was just always good fun.”

Tregoning also remembers his pre-eminent owner also offering to help out with a less glamorous task too.

“He had this great sense of humour,” he said.

“When he came to see me last time, which is now a couple of years ago, I had a real clapped-out Range Rover – which I’ve still got to this day.

“As we were leaving to go back to his helicopter, the Range Rover wouldn’t start – and he said to me ‘Marcus, shall I get out and push?’.

“The fun was always there. He was always laughing, and a great guy to train for.

“We send out all our thoughts to his family. It’s a huge loss.

“It’s a big blow to racing in general, because his operation is huge.”

Kevin Prendergast’s association with Sheikh Hamdan also stretches back to the late 1980s, with Tanwi giving them an early big-race winner in the Group Three Leopardstown Stakes in 1989.

Awtaad, the Irish 2,000 Guineas victor, and Madhmoon, runner-up in the Derby in 2019, were more recent class horses the County Kildare trainer had for him.

Madhmoon and jockey Chris Hayes celebrate after winning the KPMG Champions Juvenile Stakes at Leopardstown
Madhmoon and jockey Chris Hayes celebrate after winning the KPMG Champions Juvenile Stakes at Leopardstown (PA)

“It’s very sad news,” said Prendergast.

“He was with me for more than 30 years. He was a great man, a great owner -and he will be sadly missed by all.

“I think I trained the last winner for him – Alhaazm on Friday night (at Dundalk).

“I won the Irish 2,000 Guineas for him with Awtaad in 2016 and I was second in the Derby for him two years ago (with Madhmoon).

“They were two highlights, but I had an awful lot of luck for him over the period of time he was with me, and I found him nothing but a gentleman and very loyal owner.”

Taghrooda and Paul Hanagan following their Oaks win
Taghrooda and Paul Hanagan following their Oaks win (Steve Parsons/PA)

Paul Hanagan was Sheikh Hamdan’s retained rider between 2012 and 2016, with 2014 Oaks winner Taghrooda and 2015 champion sprinter Muhaarar providing highlights of their association.

He said: “It’s a sad day for all – he was a gentleman.

“I don’t think people fully realised how busy he was in Dubai. He was a very, very busy man, but his knowledge and his love for the sport was amazing.

“Taghrooda was a special horse in 2014 and Muhaarar gave us some great days in 2015. There were a lot of great horses during our association.

“Sheikh Hamdan was champion owner in 2014 and I know he was delighted to be back at the top that season.”

Nazeef won the Sun Chariot for Sheikh Hamdan last October
Nazeef won the Sun Chariot for Sheikh Hamdan last October (Tim Goode/PA)

John Gosden trained Taghrooda among many other top-class Sheikh Hamdan runners, and the Newmarket handler gave the owner what was to be his last British Group One winner when Nazeef landed the Sun Chariot Stakes in October.

He paid tribute to “a truly great international owner, breeder and philanthropist”.

Gosden said: “I have been fortunate to train for Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum since the 1980s when I was in California. He has always been an absolute gentleman with a true passion for his horses and a profound and intimate knowledge of them.

“He enjoyed being close to his horses whether on the stud farm, the racecourse or the stables. Sheikh Hamdan was a most respected, loyal, kind and humorous man of great depth and judgement.

“A huge contributor to the development of his country and a truly great international owner, breeder and philanthropist in the world-wide racing industry. He will be greatly missed.”

Prominent owner-breeder Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum dies aged 75

Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum has died, at the age of 75.

Sheikh Hamdan, Deputy Ruler of Dubai, was a hugely prominent owner of a string of Classic and Royal Ascot winners for more than 30 years.

His blue-and-white colours, under the livery of his Shadwell Racing banner, are among the most famous throughout the racing world.

A triumphant Willie Carson aboard Derby winner Nashwan
A triumphant Willie Carson aboard Derby winner Nashwan (PA)

On Wednesday morning Sheikh Hamdan’s younger brother Sheikh Mohammed posted on Twitter: “We belong to God and to Him we shall return … May God have mercy on you, my brother, my support and my companion.”

Among the best of Sheikh Hamdan’s many Group One winners, he was most widely associated with 1989 Derby and 2000 Guineas winner Nashwan, the brilliant 1990 dual Classic-winning filly Salsabil and outstanding sprinters of different generations in Dayjur and Battaash.

Others to have carried his silks included Oaks and King George heroine Taghrooda, another Derby victor in Erhaab and two winners of the Melbourne Cup in the shape of At Talaq and Jeune, who triumphed at Flemington in 1986 and 1994 respectively.

Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin operation was among the first to pay tribute.

A tweet on the official account read: “Everyone at Godolphin is deeply saddened to hear of the death of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum. A great loss to Dubai and our sport. He was one of the greatest owner breeders of modern times. Our deepest condolences to His Family and all @ShadwellStud.”

Richard Hills was his retained rider from 1997 until his retirement in 2012 and continued to work for him under the Shadwell banner as assistant racing manager.

“It’s really sad. We’re all devastated. From 17 years old, throughout my whole career to now,” he said.

“He was such a great man, he was like a father to me.

Nayef wins the 2001 Dubai Champion Stakes at Newmarket in the hands of Richard Hills
Nayef wins the 2001 Dubai Champion Stakes at Newmarket in the hands of Richard Hills (Haydn West/PA)

“We had some great times. I was in a lucky position. He was my friend, and I was riding his horses, which was his passion. It was joy all the way through.

“Every one of the Classic winners I rode him meant everything to me – four Guineas, an Oaks and a Leger. All of them were special.

“Nayef was great because he was out of Height Of Fashion. He was tough and he won six Group Ones. There was Almutawakel who won the Dubai World Cup.

“I rode 550 winners in Dubai. I don’t think I took a week off for 15 years.

“It was a joy to get up in the morning and ride those horses.”

John Gosden claims third champion trainer title

John Gosden has been crowned champion Flat trainer for the third year running and fifth time in all.

The Newmarket handler has amassed £3,114,226 in prize money in the calendar year – more than £650,000 ahead of six-time winner, Aidan O’Brien.

“I would like to thank all of my staff for all of their endeavours in this most difficult of years,” Gosden told Great British Racing.

“My thanks to our owners, who have been so supportive, and to the whole racing industry for pulling together so effectively.”

Among his 149 winners this year, Gosden enjoyed seven British Group One triumphs including a record third King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes with Enable and a third successive Ascot Gold Cup and a fourth Goodwood Cup with Stradivarius.

The 69-year-old trainer also claimed two Group One victories with Nazeef in the Falmouth Stakes and the Kingdom Of Bahrain Sun Chariot Stakes for champion owner Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum.

Those big-race wins helped Sheikh Hamdan take that crown by £217,000 from Godolphin, with total prize money of £2,309,194 in the championship decided from June 1 to December 31 as a result of the pandemic.

Sheikh Hamdan’s racing manager Angus Gold said: “To win the champion owner title is a fantastic achievement for everyone involved, it’s what we all work hard for and strive to achieve. It’s been a difficult year for everyone, but we have been blessed on the track this year with some amazing horses.

“While it was sad for Sheikh Hamdan not being able to come over to the likes of Royal Ascot to see them in the flesh, he is incredibly enthusiastic – and winning the champion owner title means the world to him and all the team.”

Sheikh Hamdan recorded 112 victories in total this year, with other stars of the show being Battaash and his Sussex Stakes hero Mohaather.

Ben Curtis claimed the 2020 annual Flat jockeys’ title with a total of 170 victories during the year.

“Given the lockdown in March, I set out to pass the 100 winners mark – so to have surpassed that along with the many other talented jockeys in the weighing room at the moment, such as Hollie (Doyle) and Tom (Marquand), is a great achievement,” he said.

“For us to have reached those figures, all things considered, is fantastic for British racing.”

Curtis enjoyed three Group successes in June, the Pavilion and Sagaro Stakes at Newcastle with Dubai Station and Nayef Road respectively, before having his first Royal Ascot winner with Dandalla in the Albany Stakes.

“The standout win of the year for me has to be the Royal Ascot victory,” he added.

“To ride in those races and on those occasions is one of the main reasons I moved over to England in the first place, so to have got my first Royal Ascot win this year was a special moment.”

Sheikh Hamdan’s blue and white lightened a sombre summer

One of the many memorable themes of a truncated Flat campaign has been the success enjoyed by Sheikh Hamdan Al Maktoum.

Performances by such stars as Battaash, Mohaather and Nazeef has helped the owner have arguably his best ever season.

With five domestic Group Ones, more than 100 winners and a strike-rate of 20 per cent, plus big-race wins abroad, it has been a year to remember for Sheikh Hamdan – albeit one tempered by the effect of the pandemic.

“It’s been a horrible year for everybody globally, let alone just us, but on the track we’ve been very lucky,” said Sheikh Hamdan’s racing manager Angus Gold.

“We’ve had a very good year. It’s been as good a year probably as we’ve ever had, at least for 30 years.”

Gold reflected on a Flat racing year shortened for obvious reasons but at the same time blessed with many memorable performances, supported by a stern resilience and determined will to keep the show on the road.

Racing was suspended from March 18 to June 1 – but just two weeks into the season came Royal Ascot and a first-day treble in the familiar blue and white colours to help light up a dark 2020.

“We’ve been very lucky on the track, and it started fantastically well at Ascot. It’s hard enough to get one winner there, but to have six was extraordinary,” said Gold.

Sheikh Hamdan's racing manager Angus Gold reflected on a successful year on the track
Sheikh Hamdan’s racing manager Angus Gold reflected on a successful year on the track (Mike Egerton/PA)

“The first day was amazing. Probably what was so good was the sheer number of good horses we had. Normally you rely on two or three. This year we were winning Group races with a number of different horses, which obviously makes a big difference.”

For Gold there were so many good performances. However, Mohaather’s effort in the Sussex Stakes at Goodwood, when he finally got his Group One, stood out.

“I suppose the highlight of the year was Mohaather in the Sussex. He got a big one, and he hadn’t had much luck before then,” he added.

“It was great to get his day in the sun.

“Battaash was tremendous and held his form through the year. Enbihaar was good again. She did brilliantly, and Nazeef came from being a handicapper last year to winning a Group One.

“We only kept her in training because we thought she could definitely get some black type, so to go from a Listed to Group Two to a Group One was wonderful.

“We had a couple of nice fillies in France, Raabihah and Tawkeel, so that was tremendous as well – and then it was backed up with some nice two-year-olds as well, which was nice.

Minzaal wins the Gimcrack Stakes for owner Sheikh Hamdan
Minzaal wins the Gimcrack Stakes for owner Sheikh Hamdan (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

Gold is looking to this year’s juveniles to develop into Classic contenders for 2021.

“Owen Burrow’s Minzaal won the Gimcrack, Marcus’s (Tregoning) horse (Alkumait) won the Mill Reef and then there was the Horris Hill as well with a horse of Charlie’s (Hills) (Mujbar),” he said.

“It was across the board, which was the satisfying bit.

“That is what you need, and the older horses kept us going early.

“We were light on some Classic three-year-olds, but hopefully some of those two-year-olds from this year have shown enough to suggest they could make up into something next year.

“There’s a horse of Dermot Weld’s that was just beaten the other day (at Leopardstown) called Wuqood, who could be very nice.

Albasheer (right) finishing a close second in the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster
Albasheer (right) finishing a close second in the Champagne Stakes at Doncaster (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

“There’s a number of nice, more backward horses here. I still like Albasheer of Owen Burrows’. I think it all came a bit quick for him, but he’s a potentially nice horse in the making.

“There have been one or two that have shown up just recently – winning maidens, that sort of thing – who could go on.

“It was weird to have such a good year and yet we feel, not deflated, but not being able to enjoy it really with what’s going on the world. We’ve been incredibly lucky.”