Sheikh’s missing daughter casts shadow over Derby favorite

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum has spent millions trying to win the Kentucky Derby, and in the process plowing money into horse racing worldwide. Now with the overwhelming favorite, Dubai’s ruler faces increased scrutiny for allegations that he has violated human rights and orchestrated the disappearance of his own daughter.

The controversy, well-known in the Middle East for a more than a year, has gotten renewed attention as Essential Quality prepares for Saturday’s race. The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission received a complaint this week from a group of human rights attorneys and students at the University of Louisville seeking to have Sheikh Mohammed banned from the Derby.

The complaint asks the racing commission to bar Sheikh Mohammed from entering any horses in any races, including the Derby and the Kentucky Oaks on Friday “until such time as his daughter, Princess Latifa, is free from captivity, or (b) hold an immediate public hearing to assess the serious allegations of his human rights abuses.”

Kristin Voskul, spokeswoman for the KHRC, didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. However, the complaint is not expected to keep the sheikh’s horse out of the Derby.

One of his daughters, Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed Al Maktoum, said last spring that she is being held against her will, according to video diaries she said were recorded inside a Dubai villa and broadcast by the BBC. Sheikha Latifa was detained by commandos in 2018 after she tried to flee Dubai in a yacht.

The princess’ 38-year-old sister, Shamsa, was taken from Cambridge, England, on Aug. 19, 2000, and hasn’t been seen since. A judge in England ruled last year that Sheikh Mohammed orchestrated both abductions. The sheikh had told the the court he was relieved at having found his “vulnerable” daughter Shamsa after she went missing.

The judge was ruling on a case between Sheikh Mohammed and his second official wife, Princess Haya, over their two children. She is the daughter of the late King Hussein of Jordan, and married Sheikh Mohammed in 2004. She fled Dubai in 2019 with her two children saying that she was scared of her husband’s threats.

The cases are particularly sensitive in Britain because of economic and historic links to Dubai. Sheikh Mohammed, who is vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, is hugely influential in Britain’s racing industry because of the money he spends on breeding and racing. He is friendly with fellow horse enthusiast Queen Elizabeth II.

The sheikh is well-known in Kentucky racing circles, with his Godolphin operations based at Jonabell Farm in Lexington. While the sheikh won’t be among the limited fans in attendance Saturday, Churchill Downs spokesman Darren Rogers indicated the protest has little chance of success.

“Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid currently holds a valid racing license in the state of Kentucky. There have been no horse racing violations and nor are we aware of any other U.S. regulatory or governmental investigations,” Rogers said. “We are focused on the three-year-old thoroughbreds who have earned their way into this year’s Kentucky Derby and our responsibility is to the integrity of the race and the safety of those horses.”

The United Nations human rights office has raised concerns about Latifa’s treatment by the UAE and sought evidence that the princess was still alive. The UAE’s embassy in London has said the princess was being cared for by her family and medical professionals.

Sheikha Latifa’s supporters have urged President Joe Biden to pressure Sheikh Mohammed to release her, saying Biden is one of the few world leaders with the stature to win her freedom.

Sheikh Mohammad has been involved in other controversies, including being accused in 2006 of encouraging the abduction and enslavement of boys for use as jockeys in camel races. A class-action lawsuit filed in Florida was dismissed.

In 2013, a trainer for the al Maktoum family’s Godolphin stable was banned for eight years by British racing authorities for administering steroids to horses. The sheikh responded by outlawing the use of anabolic steroids on horses in the UAE.

The latest controversy coincides with the sheikh’s strongest bid yet to win the Kentucky Derby after 11 previous attempts have failed. Essential Quality, an undefeated gray colt, is the early 2-1 favorite in a full field of 20 horses.

Sheikh Mohammed founded Godolphin in 1994 and is owner of Darley, one of the industry’s major breeding operations, with farms in Kentucky, England, Ireland and Australia.

Godolphin has won many of the world’s most prestigious horse races, with the exception of the Kentucky Derby. The sheikh created the lucrative Dubai World Cup race that attracts the top horses to compete in the desert.

Taiba wins $1 million Pennsylvania Derby for Baffert

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BENSALEM, Pa. – Taiba won the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby by three lengths for Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert.

Ridden by Mike Smith, Taiba ran 1 1/8 miles in 1:48.67 and paid $4.80, $3 and $2.60.

It was Baffert’s fourth win in the Grade 1 event at Parx Racing. He also won in 2014, 2017 and 2018. Smith won the race for the third time, all aboard Baffert horses.

Zandon returned $3.80 and $2.60. Cyberknife was another 3 3/4 lengths back in third and paid $3 to show.

Taiba was coming off a second-place finish in the Haskell Invitational at Monmouth in July. The colt was 12th in the Kentucky Derby under Tim Yakteen, who took over training him while Baffert was serving a 90-day suspension.

“He had a little bit of a rough trip in the Haskell, but we had some time to get him ready for this one,” Baffert said from his base in California. “He proved today he is a good horse. He is getting better and better.”

Baffert Taiba will be pointed toward the $6 million Breeders’ Cup Classic in November. The colt has three wins in five starts this year.

Kentucky Derby modifies qualifying, elevates prep races

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs has modified paths to the Kentucky Derby and Oaks, awarding points to the top five finishers in qualifying races and increasing significance for the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile and late prep season events.

Most Derby prep races during the qualifying series for 3-year-olds will award points on a 10-4-3-2-1 sliding scale after using a 10-4-2-1 system since 2013. The Breeders’ Cup Juvenile, run during the season-ending championships on Nov. 4 at Keeneland in Lexington, Kentucky, will increase points from 20-8-4-2 to 30-12-9-6-3 to differentiate the Grade I event from others during prep season.

Select prep races for the 20-horse Derby field have elevated points from a 10-4-2-1 scale to 20-8-6-4-2 to increase their importance and motivate hopefuls to begin their 3-year-old campaigns earlier in the season, track officials stated in a release.

“We believe these modifications adhere to and amplify our goal of assembling the finest group of 3-year-olds in the starting gate for a race at the classic distance of 1\ miles on the first Saturday in May,” Churchill Downs vice president/general manager Mike Ziegler said.

The 149th Kentucky Derby and Oaks for fillies will be held on May 5-6, 2023. Derby qualifying season begins with Saturday’s $300,000, Grade III Iroquois for 2-year-olds at Churchill Downs.

The point changes apply to Oaks qualifiers.

Elevated Derby preps include the Lecomte at Fair Grounds in Louisiana; Southwest at Oaklawn Park in Arkansas; Withers at Aqueduct in New York; Holy Bull at Gulfstream Park in Florida; Robert B. Lewis at Santa Anita in California; Sam F. Davis at Tampa Bay Downs; and John Battaglia Memorial at Turfway Park in Kentucky.