It should be noted, further, that one of the brakes on the frantic pace of Maktoum purchasing has now become inoperative. The brothers had been preceded by another raiding foreigner, Robert Sangster, the man who is credited with changing the horse-breeding game from a hobby for the very rich to a tough profession. At first, the Sangster-Maktoum dueling in U.S. salerooms was savage, but now only a single aspect of that rivalry remains, the one fought out on the racetracks of England.
As early as 1984, to the consternation of some U.S. breeders, there had been signs that a deal was being worked out between the Englishman and the Arabs. Those rumors received highly publicized confirmation the following winter, when Sheikh Mohammed invited Sangster and some friends out to Dubai for a jolly weekend. There was camel racing and falconry, and included in the party, presumably by design, was a prominent British racing journalist who upon returning duly reported the junket in the then Sangster-owned horse magazine, Pacemaker International.
It was there in the Persian Gulf, many believe, that the treaty of Dubai, 1985, was signed, the one that forced prices down at Keeneland in 1986. There was a hiccup early on in last summer's sale, though. A short duel developed between the members of the new accord, so the speculation goes, because a particular Nijinsky II colt was just the 12th yearling being offered on the first morning, and the professional agents who bid on behalf of Sangster and the Maktoums, respectively, hadn't had time to go through the catalog together. The bidding ended when the Arabs dropped out to let Sangster have the colt at $3.2 million, perhaps after a whispered, mid-bidding deal.
It is hard to know how the foreign invasion is going to be turned back. At present, the native resistance movement consists largely of Eugene Klein, the onetime owner of the San Diego Chargers, for whom trainer D. Wayne Lukas bids, and Georgia aircraft manufacturer and Kentucky farm owner Allen Paulson. So far, though, it is not clear what the consequences of the new tax law will be for the business of owning racing thoroughbreds, and the only certainty is that the Maktoums write their own tax laws in Dubai.
Sheikh Mohammed has been steadily increasing the number of horses he has in training in the U.S. Last year he had only six, this year it's up to 14. The numbers are very small, at least for now. Meanwhile, his brother Maktoum Al Maktoum now owns Gainsborough Stud in Kentucky so called to match the other Gainsborough Stud that he owns in Berkshire, England, and brother Hamdan has Shadwell Stud in Kentucky, in addition to Shadwell Stud in Norfolk, England.
And in England there are those who, from the start, have looked on the benefits of the Arab invasion as faerie gold, liable not to be there when you wake up. The Maktoums now have such a massive stake in the country's bloodstock that they could, at will, start the pendulum on another swing, this time from East to West.
"I probably encouraged the Arabs in the first place, but I'd rather they spent their money on our leisure industry than that they should go off and buy football teams in America," Sangster was reported as saying recently. It might be a strain to envision Sheikh Mohammed in his box at Texas Stadium, looking down on his new sporting investment. But visualizing him in the winner's circle at Churchill Downs does not require that much of a stretch.
In another winner's circle, at Goodwood last summer, Sheikh Mohammed stroked the nose of Sonic Lady. "Do you see her looking at me?" he asked. "She knew she had won." He permitted himself the luxury of a smile. "It gave me huge pleasure to see my lady beat the men," he said.
Alas, Sheikh Mohammed would not experience that same pleasure in the Breeders' Cup at Santa Anita. But that doesn't mean he's dismayed. You will have learned by now that he does not operate on a Western time frame. He is in no rush.
However, the Maktoums can also strike fast. The Australians discovered this on Nov. 4, when Sheikh Hamdan's At Talaq, a 10-1 shot, took the $419,000 Melbourne Cup, the Southern Hemisphere's biggest racing prize. And what is the size of the Maktoum's bloodstock empire Down Under? Well, uh, so far it's just this one horse—which is perhaps why the Maktoums didn't show up personally for the race, preferring to watch a live TV transmission specially beamed into Dubai. Now there is talk in the Aussie horse community of unlocking the floodgates and letting in the Arabs wholesale.