Ashforth’s Angles: The owner, the myth and the legend

Khalild-abdullah-360

For how much longer will Khalild Abdullah’s (pictured centre with Frankel) familiar green, pink and white colours grace European racecourses?

  PICTURE: Edward Whitaker (racingpost.com/photos)  

IN 1977 a filly called Hatta won a race at Brighton. In 1979 a colt called Charming Native won at Windsor. Their successes went largely unnoticed. Few realised that they marked the arrival of two of the most enduringly influential figures in international racing – Sheikh Mohammed and Prince Khalid Abdullah.

Almost 40 years on the Maktoum family and Khalid Abdullah continue to sustain, directly and indirectly, an army of employees. They have bolstered the racing and breeding industries in an unprecedented fashion but for how much longer will Khalid Abdullah’s familiar colours grace European racecourses?

Midterm, favourite for the Dante at York (3.15), carries the green, pink sash, white sleeves, pink cap that have become instantly recognisable, a seemingly permanent symbol of involvement and quality. They are the colours once worn by some of racing’s equine greats, by Dancing Brave and Rainbow Quest, Zafonic and Frankel and many others.

Behind them all is a man near the heart of the Saudi royal family, a businessman whose passion is horseracing, particularly breeding, a man only fleetingly seen on British racecourses, about whom we know little, a private man.

Years ago, I interviewed Prince Khalid Abdullah in an office in London. I enjoyed it because he is a likeable and intriguing person. I discovered more about his manner and demeanour but little more about his life beyond Juddmonte, as little, no doubt, as he wanted me to. There were no striking revelations to report and I didn’t get to know the man behind the polite charm.

When Abdullah first decided to buy horses, Lord Weinstock advised him on colours. They were the colours of a set of curtains, chosen partly because they stood out. Abdullah didn’t want them to stand out to be conspicuous – that would be out of character – but because his eyes troubled him; he wanted colours that were readily seen.

Former trainer Humphrey Cottrill advised him on horses. Cottrill was Abdullah’s racing manager for several years but once remarked, “He was always perfectly charming but even after some time in his company I knew absolutely nothing about him as a person.”

He is quiet, not animated, polite, modest and gentle in manner, a gentleman. He also has a wry sense of humour. That is all I learnt, apart from the horses; about the rest of his life, nothing revealing.

We do not know exactly how old Khalid Abdullah is but he is in his late 70s. He has sons but are any of them interested in horseracing? Three years ago it was announced that there would be disposals and the Juddmonte operation reduced in scale. If it has shrunk, it remains formidable. This year, Ralph Beckett and Hugo Palmer have been added to a roster of British trainers composed of Sir Michael Stoute, Roger Charlton, John Gosden, Charles Hills and Amanda Perrett.

Midterm is one of seven horses Khalid Abdullah runs today, at York, Newmarket and Salisbury. He is very important, as he has been for a long time.

 

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