Sheik Mohammed's Expensive Horse Obsession The Kentucky Derby plays host to all sorts of royalty Saturday. Although he doesn't have a thoroughbred running this year, Sheik Mohammed of Dubai is an affluent horseman who is expected to attend and has sunk millions of dollars into the sport.
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Sheik Mohammed's Expensive Horse Obsession

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Sheik Mohammed's Expensive Horse Obsession

Sheik Mohammed's Expensive Horse Obsession

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Mr. Roth, thanks very much for being with us.

DANIEL ROTH: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: Going to be a good year for Sheik Mohammed at Churchill Downs?

ROTH: It's a rough year for Sheik Mohammed. And none of his horses ended up making it at this year, which is a problem. But he has one goal in mind, and that's to - not just win the Kentucky Derby - but to win the Kentucky Derby with a horse that is raised in Dubai. And none of his horses who are in Dubai had the stuff to be able to make it in Kentucky. So they won't be making the trip there this year.

SIMON: We should note that some of the progeny of some of these horses are running in the derby, right?

ROTH: He's got three horses that are born from these horses. So there are the Street Sense, there's Bwana Bull and Zanjero, and they're all born from some of Sheik Mohammed's stallions.

SIMON: Could a man of his means just be hiring the wrong people?

ROTH: He could be. But, you know, Sheik Mohammed says, I'm a horseman. I know that you have no idea what's going to happen. He says he doesn't blame his people. He never tells his people, you have to win the Kentucky Derby. He just says, find me the best horses. And the horses running at the Kentucky Derby are three-year-old horses. That's the equivalent of 15-year-olds in human terms. They have no idea what they're doing. This is their first time running this far. They've never seen this many horses together in one place. Anything can happen.

SIMON: Could you identify a reason why his strategy has apparently worked in Europe but, at least, so far, not in the U.S.?

ROTH: And the second thing is that he is flying his horses from Dubai to Kentucky to try to race them. That's a very difficult transition, a lot of horse people say. He says that's crazy that it will work. It's no problem flying these horses, you know, the 12 hours on his private 747 that he built just for them to be able to go back and forth. But so far he hasn't been able to find one that can make the trip and come in and win the Derby.

SIMON: He has a private 747 just for his horses?

ROTH: He has the only one in the world built just to ferry his horses.

SIMON: What's in-flight service like? Do you have any idea?

ROTH: It's the top hay that you could ever have wanted. Incredible.

SIMON: And DVDs of "Sea Biscuit" running.

ROTH: Exactly.

SIMON: The sheik's stables are named Darley and Godolphin.

ROTH: So when Sheik Mohammed - he decided to name his two stables after two of the three of the founding sires, he was really claiming a stake to the entire thoroughbred line.

SIMON: Mr. Roth, you've obviously learned a lot about horses to be able to write about Sheik Mohammed and his many interests. Who looks good in the Derby to you?

ROTH: And then my favorite is Nobiz Like Showbiz.

SIMON: Ah, my dollar bill is on that horse. Yes.

ROTH: You like Nobiz.

SIMON: Yeah.

ROTH: Here, you've got some of the richest people in America and in the world, who have spent so much money trying to win this race, and the 70-year-old woman has a good shot at it, and that's the one I'm really going to be watching.

SIMON: Daniel Roth, who profiles Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai and one of the dominant figures in horseracing, for the premier issue of Conde Nast Portfolio. Mr. Roth, thanks so much.

ROTH: Thank you.

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