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.

Newgate wins Robert B. Lewis Stakes; Baffert runs 1-2-3-4

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ARCADIA, Calif. — Newgate won the $200,000 Robert B. Lewis Stakes by a neck, with Bob Baffert as the trainer of all four horses in the Kentucky Derby prep race at Santa Anita.

Ridden by Frankie Dettori, Newgate ran 1 1/16 miles in 1:43.11 and paid $4 and $2.60 as the even-money favorite. There was no show wagering because of the field size.

Hard to Figure returned $5.20 at 12-1 odds. Worcester was another 1 3/4 lengths back in third. Arabian Lion was fourth.

“So much improvement in all these horses,” Baffert said. “I was actually nervous before the race, worried that something weird might happen, but I can relax now.”

The Lewis was a Kentucky Derby prep race, but no points were awarded because Baffert has been banned for two years by Churchill Downs Inc. The Hall of Fame trainer was in Louisville to testify in federal court as he seeks a temporary injunction to end the suspension, which runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet. It was meted out following a failed drug test by Medina Spirit after the colt finished first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

Newgate earned his first graded stakes victory. The colt was second, beaten by a neck in the Sham Stakes last month in his previous start.

“Frankie Dettori has been teaching him how to just sit back, relax and come with a punch and that’s what he did today,” Baffert said.

The victory, worth $120,000, increased Newgate’s career earnings to $241,975, with two wins in six starts.

Baffert: 2-year Churchill Downs suspension hurt reputation

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Churchill Downs never gave advance notice nor reached out to explain its two-year suspension, Hall of Fame trainer Bob Baffert said in federal court, and reiterated that the penalty has caused irreparable harm to his business and reputation.

Baffert has sued the historic track and is seeking a temporary injunction to stop his suspension following a failed drug test by the now-deceased Medina Spirit after the colt came in first in the 2021 Kentucky Derby.

The suspension for a series of failed tests by his horses runs through the end of the upcoming spring meet and could exclude Baffert from the Derby for a second consecutive spring.

Almost a year ago, Kentucky racing officials disqualified Medina Spirit and suspended Baffert for 90 days for those failed tests. Churchill Downs elevated Derby runner-up Mandaloun to winner.

“They’ve hurt my reputation,” Baffert said during nearly two hours of testimony in U.S. District Court. “My horses should’ve made much more money. I didn’t run for 90 days, and I had to let people go.”

Churchill Downs wants the case dismissed, citing nine failed tests by Baffert-trained horses as justification for disciplining horse racing’s most visible figure. The list of violators includes 2020 Kentucky Oaks third-place finisher Gamine, who was ultimately disqualified.

Medina Spirit failed his test for having in his system the corticosteroid betamethasone, which Baffert and attorney Clark Brewster have argued came from an ointment rather than an injection.

Track president Mike Anderson said the decision by Churchill Downs CEO Bill Carstanjen stemmed from Baffert’s “refusal to take responsibility for repeat violations” during a news conference at his backside barn after Medina Spirit’s failed test was revealed.

“We wanted to make a statement that this was a consequence of not doing the right thing,” Anderson said.

Attorneys Matt Benjamin and Christine Demana, who are representing Churchill Downs, also disputed Baffert’s contention that business has suffered by noting his latest crop of promising 3-year-old colts on this year’s Derby trail.

One of them, Arabian Knight, won last week’s Southwest Stakes at Oaklawn by 5+ lengths to give Baffert his record sixth win in the race. The horse is ineligible to earn Kentucky Derby qualifying points as the winner because of Baffert’s suspension.

A slide presented also showed that Baffert horses made 477 starts from May 10, 2021, through December 2022 and won marquee races such as the 2021 Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (Corniche, the Eclipse winner) along with Grade 1 wins in the Pennsylvania Derby and Malibu Stakes (Taiba).

Friday’s 3 1/2-hour hearing followed four hours of testimony on Thursday. District Judge Rebecca Grady Jennings gave no indication when she would rule. But Brewster said he expects a decision “within several days.”

Baffert testified that he had had a good relationship with Churchill Downs, though he noted that he was paying for his seats at the track and having to “grovel” to get them. He also insisted that he tried to be a good ambassador for horse racing, especially after American Pharoah and Justify won the Triple Crown in 2015 and 2018, respectively.

“I think today was great because I finally got to tell my story in a nonbiased atmosphere,” he said. “I hope for the best, and hopefully we’ll be here.”