"What he needs to eat, he catches with the falcon and the saluki," he continued. "But it is his horse, in war, that will get him out of trouble. In Arabia there was selective breeding of horses centuries ago. A warrior would ride his camel to the battle, leading his horse. For the fight itself, though, he would mount the horse.
"And that was the start of the bloodhorse, because a man would say. This other man has a good stallion. I will send my mare to him.' At that time the European horses were big, heavy, like farm horses, bred to carry men in armor...."
That's a little exaggerated. The early days of organized horse racing in Europe featured ponies as well as bigger horses, but it is entirely true that it was the injection of fine-boned, fast Arabian bloodstock that made the modern thoroughbred. There might have been 40 Arabian stallions imported altogether, but it is from just three of them that a direct male line can be traced—the romantically named Byerley Turk, the Godolphin Arabian and the Darley Arabian. (A visitor to New York's Belmont Park can meet all three in their sculptured form at the Fasig-Tipton building across the street from the track.) Not for nothing, then, does Sheikh Mohammed call the agency that handles his bidding at thoroughbred sales the Darley Management Stud.
The Darley Arabian line eventually became the most important of the three in U.S. racing. From this line came Epsom Derby winners Bahram, Mahmoud and Blenheim II, which, when they were shipped out to stud in America, contributed much to the revival of the American thoroughbred industry in the '40s.
And now the reversal of that movement is especially savored by members of the English racing establishment who are old enough to recall the darkest days of World War II. The Aga Khan (father of Aly Khan, who married Rita Hayworth. remember?) caused some consternation in Britain by spending the war years in neutral Switzerland. He then compounded the offense, as far as the racing-crazy British public was concerned, by shipping his finest stallion, Bahrain, the winner of the 1935 English Triple Crown, to the U.S. The plump leader of the Moslem Ismaili sect was probably the richest man in the world at the time and certainly the owner of its finest thoroughbreds. It was not until 1970 that another horse, Nijinsky II, won the English Triple Crown. The transatlantic traffic continued with the speedy Nasrullah (who would sire Bold Ruler), followed by other valued bloodstock right through the '50s and '60s. Vaguely Noble came to the U.S., Sea Bird, Ribot...the movement was unending, it seemed. With the early postwar power of the dollar, the heartland of the thoroughbred had shifted from Newmarket Heath in England to Kentucky.
And now, paradoxically, another enormously wealthy stranger from the East is changing the direction of the flow again. A few hours before he talked so passionately in the Hyatt Carlton Tower of the tradition of the Arab steed, Sheikh Mohammed had gone to the races (by helicopter, how else?) at Goodwood, a green jewel of a track 60 miles southwest of London. His 3-year-old filly, Sonic Lady, was running in the Sussex Stakes, a mile on grass worth approximately $390,000. She had cost him $500,000 at the 1984 Fasig-Tipton Kentucky July sale. And she went off as a 6-5 favorite at Goodwood.
She hung at the back of the field, relaxed, until the last quarter mile. Then she moved up front slowly, past three 4-year-olds and Bold Arrangement, the colt that was second in this year's Kentucky Derby with Steve Cauthen aboard. Sonic Lady won Europe's most important mile going away by 1� lengths.
Four days earlier, Dancing Brave had won the prestigious $355,000 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Diamond Stakes at Ascot. Sheikh Mohammed had bought a majority share of Dancing Brave's eventual syndication package from Prince Khaled Abdullah, a cousin in the Saudi royal family who likes to be known in racing circles as plain Mr. K. Abdullah. Sired by Lyphard, bred at Glen Oak Farm in Kentucky, Dancing Brave has been declared by many fine judges to be the best to race in England since Nijinsky IE and it was no surprise when Mr. K. Abdullah, in whose colors he ran, received the trophy from the Queen Mother.
And this fall there were further spectacular successes for the pair in France. Sonic Lady's win in the Prix du Moulin made her the unchallenged top miler in Europe, and Dancing Brave's superb come-from-behind win in the Prix de l' Arc de Triomphe in October was his finest moment. With hindsight, it's easy now to see how shipping both horses to Santa Anita for the Breeders' Cup, with the attendant jet lag and climatic change, was the worst kind of gamble. Dancing Brave's trainer, Guy Harwood, had almost pulled him out a couple of days before the race; he had been sweating badly in the stuffy, brick quarantine shed, had worked at little better than half speed and had lost weight. Though Dancing Brave finished fourth, behind Manila, Joe Hirsch was moved to write that he "lost no stature at all in defeat." And of Sonic Lady, Hirsch wrote that "she had nothing to prove when she arrived and no excuses in departing. Her reputation belongs to history."
More important than any single race result, though, was the fact that, instead of returning to the U.S. to sire more blue-grass stock. Dancing Brave will stand at Dalham Hall Stud, near Newmarket, one of the five studs that the Sheikh owns in the British Isles. Dancing Brave will be joining another Kentucky-bred stallion who never made it home, Shareef Dancer, syndicated in 1983 for a still-world-record $40 million.