Dubai's Sheikh Still Buying Horses

The credit crisis in Dubai that shook world markets hasn't stopped the country's ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum from buying race horses.

Sheikh Mohammed was the top spender at the Tattersalls sales in Newmarket, England, on Nov. 27, two days after Dubai World, a state-run company grappling with $59 billion of liabilities, said it would ask creditors for a "standstill agreement" on its debt.

His advisers bought eight foals for a total of 1.12 million guineas ($1.95 million) for him as stock markets slumped around the world on concern over a default. His biggest purchase was a 260,000-guinea colt sired by Invincible Spirit.

"The horse side of the business is the private enjoyment of Sheikh Mohammed, so therefore has nothing whatever to do with the government, or government funds and the restructuring," John Ferguson, his main bloodstock adviser and buyer, said in an interview at Europe's biggest horse auctioneer yesterday.

Dubai's announcement Nov. 25 that Dubai World would seek to delay debt repayments stoked concern that a potential default would set back the global financial system's recovery. It triggered the biggest stock market slump in three months in Asia and Europe's worst rout since April as the debt request risked adding to banks' losses.

Stocks rallied from Shanghai to New York yesterday as Dubai said half of Dubai World's obligations are "stable." Dubai is in talks with its lenders to restructure $26 billion of debt, easing concern that a default would add to the $1.7 trillion financial companies around the world have written down as the credit crisis impaired the value of their assets.

Quality of Horses

The sheikh's spending this year at the December sales in Newmarket is "about the same," as last year, Ferguson said. "It depends on the quality of the horses really."

The price for yearlings is quoted in English guineas—equivalent to one pound and five pence. The guinea, no longer in use, was the unit of currency often paid to artists and professionals.

The Dubai ruler, who rode in his first race when he was 12 years old and used to share his breakfast with his horse on his way to school, became involved with racing in the 1970s. He developed an interest in the sport when he lived with an English family while studying at Cambridge University in 1966, according to the Web site of his racing stable Godolphin.

Sheikh Mohammed is now the biggest race-horse owner and breeder in the sport's history, with about 700 race horses in training, according to a recent report in the London-based Times.

Expanded Operations

Since winning his first race with his filly Hatta in Brighton, England in 1977, he's expanded his operations to 7,000 acres of paddocks and 5,000 acres of farmland in Newmarket alone, The Times said. The Dubai ruler owns a total of 12,000 acres of land in Ireland, Japan, the U.S. and Australia.

It costs around 20,000 pounds ($33,168) a year on average to train a race horse.

His Godolphin racing stable has won more than $20 million in prize money this year alone, up from $3,642 when it first started in 1992, according to its Web site. The most successful horses it has produced in terms of total victories are Dubai Millennium, Halling and Kayf Tara, which each won nine races.

Still, he's getting low returns from his investments. Sheikh Mohammed had the lowest return on investment among the 18 biggest buyers of one-year-old thoroughbreds at U.S. auctions from 2004 to 2006, according to data compiled by The Blood-Horse MarketWatch.

Trailing Others

The 141 horses purchased by Ferguson earned on average $48,689 in purse money in races in the Northern Hemisphere through June 5, according to MarketWatch. That's 4.7% of the average price of $1.03 million the sheikh paid for each horse, a return that's less than one-sixth the average of 32.4% of initial investment for the 18 biggest buyers.

Ferguson said Sheikh Mohammed's spending on his global breeding and racing operations is all funded by his own private money.

The crisis in Dubai "has nothing to do with us at all," Ferguson said, as he walked to the auction ring in Newmarket to watch a mare being sold off in this week's Tattersalls mares sales.

"If John Ferguson says that, then we must be reassured," Henry Beeby, group chief executive at Ireland's Goffs, Tattersalls' closest competitor, said in an interview. "Sheikh Mohammed is a major and very welcome investor in our business on a very regular basis."

Attended by buyers and sellers including Swedish packaging heiress Kirsten Rausing, Tattersalls got 20.2 million guineas in revenue from last week's foals sales, an increase of 39% from a year ago. Some 618 foals were sold for an average price of 32,716 guineas. Last year, Tattersalls auctioned 562 foals at an average price of 25,888 guineas during the period.

The results have "exceeded our expectations," Tattersalls Chairman Edward Mahony said in a statement on its Web site.

"These are still challenging times and it would be wrong to pretend otherwise, but this week's returns can only help to bring back a measure of confidence to an industry which, like so many others, took a battering last year."

Sheikh Mohammed didn't attend the sales this week or last week at Tattersalls.

In October, the Dubai ruler was in attendance at the Tattersalls sales for yearlings, or young race horses. Wearing sneakers, a hat and reading glasses perched on his nose, he watched proceedings around the paddock as he spoke to Ferguson and flicked through the sales catalogue.

Major Employer

heikh Mohammed and his associates spent 7.5 million guineas on more than 40 young race horses in the Sfirst two days of the October sale of one-year-old thoroughbreds in Newmarket. During the same period last year, when the auction was held shortly after the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc., he spent 6 million guineas on 33 yearlings.

"He's a major employer, and he has some of the best bloodstock in the world," Goffs' Beeby said when asked what would happen to the breeding and racing industry should the Sheikh stop spending money on horses. "It would be bad news if any of the big people like him would pull out."