Essential Quality could win the Kentucky Derby. Activists concerned about Sheikha Latifa, the owner’s daughter, don’t think the horse should run at all.
A group of human rights lawyers and students at the University of Louisville have filed a complaint with the Kentucky Horse Racing Commission, asking them to ban Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum — owner of Kentucky Derby favourite Essential Quality — from the Derby on Saturday because of alleged human rights abuses against at least one of his daughters. Such a ban would mean Essential Quality, the 2-1 morning-line favourite, would not be allowed to race.
The complaint specifically asks the commission to bar Sheikh Mohammed from entering any horses in any races, including the Derby and the Oaks “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.”
“Now we believe there is credible evidence for the Kentucky Racing Commission to take action or hold a hearing to determine whether these allegations are credible,” Marcosson said. “The commission has in the past suspended people or barred them for their actions; we think since they have acted on other issues, they should do so when someone is involved in gross human rights violations.”
Two of Sheikh Mohammed’s daughter’s have tried to flee Dubai; Princess Shamsa ran away from one of his English country houses and was later captured by bodyguards in Cambridge in 2000. She was returned to Dubai and little heard from since. Princess Latifa had a far more dramatic and recounted escape attempt in 2018, fleeing on a boat with a Finnish fitness instructor before being captured in international waters by Indian special forces off the coast of Goa.
Marcosson is working with Los Angeles civil rights attorney Lisa Bloom, who was approached by intermediaries on behalf of Princess Latifa, although she does not officially represent her. Marcosson said the complaint is not aimed at punishing Sheikh Mohammed, who is the ruler of Dubai, in addition to being the vice president and prime minister of the United Arab Emirates. “This is to call attention to the case, raise a higher profile and perhaps ultimately, through legal action, get the sheikh to allow Latifa to leave,” he said.
Throroughbred horse racing has always been full of princes and potentates, scoundrels and scam artists; where would the racing commission even begin to start turning away the morally compromised? And speaking of that, do we really think the racing commission should even get close to geopolitical power plays? Tracks like Churchill Downs who are now, finally, paying attention to unions and Black Lives Matter, could also decide what manner of people they’re willing to have on site.
However, the commission has rarely, if ever, suspended someone who has provided such an integral financial backbone to much of the racing industry in Kentucky, and in England for that matter, with his extensive racing operations through Godolphin (an enterprise named after one of the Arab stallions who became a foundational sire to Thoroughbreds). Sheikh Mohammed has won nearly every race in the world except the Derby.
So it’s not at all clear how the racing commission will handle this, if at all.
But there’s a much bigger problem horse racing does need to work on, one that might streamline how the industry deals with everything from over-punitive fathers to overuse of drugs: Stop opposing the Horse Racing Integrity Act with lawsuits that we’re seeing from the National Horsemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association and others and get on board to get racing clean once and for all.
A judge found last year that Sheikh Mohammed was responsible for both abductions in a case between him and his second official wife, Princess Haya, over their two children. Princess Haya fled Dubai in 2019 with their daughters in fear of her husband, she told the courts.