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.
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.
“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.
“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.”
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.”
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.”