Senior executives in British racing are starting to consider the possibility that some of the Flat season’s marquee events might suffer directly as a result of the diplomatic crisis in the Gulf, in which some of the sport’s most powerful participants are on opposite sides.
The current crisis, seen as the most serious in the region for several years, started on Monday when a coalition of states including Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates announced that it was cutting all economic and diplomatic ties with Qatar. The Saudi-led coalition has accused Qatar of destabilising the region by supporting “terrorist and sectarian groups”, charges that Qatar denies.
Sheikh Mohammed of Dubai, the most significant owner in world racing, is the UAE’s vice-president, prime minister and minister of defence. His Godolphin racing operation has 375 horses in training in Britain, and a total of 750 worldwide. Qatar, meanwhile, has also invested heavily in European racing in recent years through the increasing interest in the sport of two members of its ruling family, Sheikh Joaan al-Thani and Sheikh Fahad al-Thani.
The Qatari investment extends to racehorses and sponsorships, including the main Festival meeting at Goodwood in August and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe meeting in France, both of which have Qatar as their principal sponsor. The British Champions Series, which includes races at a number of top tracks and Champions Day at Ascot in October, is sponsored by the Qatari investment fund Qipco, which also supports Ireland’s most prestigious all-aged race, the Irish Champion Stakes at Leopardstown in September.
If the current crisis is not resolved swiftly it is possible major events including Glorious Goodwood could be affected. None of those connected to the key players that the Guardian contacted was prepared to comment on Thursday.
Godolphin was created to promote Dubai to the world and Sheikh Mohammed is its driving force. There is an acute awareness that, if the breakdown in diplomatic relations continues, it could seem inappropriate if the famous royal blue silks lined up for a race sponsored by Qatar.
Godolphin’s leading miler Ribchester, an impressive winner of the Lockinge Stakes at Newbury last month, finished a close third in the Qatar Sussex Stakes last season, and would be expected to be a leading contender for this year’s renewal. The Sussex Stakes is the feature event of what is now known as the Qatar Goodwood Festival as part of a 10-year sponsorship deal, which was the most valuable that British racing had seen when it was signed in 2014.
Ribchester is an obvious example of the possible dilemma that could face his owner, but Godolphin is such a major player in the sport that it would also expect to field fancied runners in other major events such as the Goodwood Cup, Richmond Stakes and Nassau Stakes, all of which are sponsored directly by Qatar.
The sensitivity over the situation among senior racing executives is considerable, and what all those involved in the administration and promotion of British racing are most desperate to avoid if the current situation in the Gulf continues is any hint of partiality. It is difficult to underestimate the importance of both sides to the future financial wellbeing of British racing, and the most earnest wish of all concerned is that diplomacy will find a way to resolve the crisis speedily.