Updated: Wednesday, 18 December 2013 03:44 | By Agence France-Presse

A year to forget for Dubai ruler, Cecil loses battle

Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum's Godolphin Operation had what can only be described as an annus horribilis for despite some big winners their year will be remembered for being implicated in the worst doping scandal to hit the sport.


A year to forget for Dubai ruler, Cecil loses battle

Godolphin trainer Mahmood al-Zarooni arrives for a disciplinary hearing at the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) in London on April 25, 2013

The doping of 22 horses -- including the surprising 2012 St Leger winner Encke -- may have resulted in an eight year ban for the man held responsible, trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni, but it still did untold damage to the image of his employer.

Sheikh Mohammed -- nicknamed the 'boss' and who is renowned for being a hands on employer -- didn't help his image much in a public relations catastrophe at the English 2000 Guineas day in May when his Dawn Approach cantered to victory.

"I always face certain....challenges. To me it's normal," was his remark as to his being present rather than staying away in light of the scandal.

However, clearly ill at ease when asked about the British Horseracing Authority's handling of the affair he turned on his heel with a dismissive "That's up to them."

The doping cloud would not leave the side of Sheikh Mohammed through the year as it was revealed later that a shipment of illegal veterinary goods from Dubai had been seized from a Dubai government private jet by British authorities as well as at a stud owned by the Sheikh.

Although it transpired the products were not to be used on thoroughbreds it placed Sheikh Mohammed's junior wife Princess Haya in an unenviable position as the president of the International Federation of Equestrian Sports (FEI) as she was due to lead an enquiry into the seizure of the products and their destination.

However, Sheikh Mohammed -- who as a result of the Zarooni scandal banned anabolic steroids from all horse-related sports in Dubai in May -- then asked Britain's former top policeman John Stevens to conduct a full investigation into his whole racing operation and which should report in the New Year.

Al Zarooni was not the only trainer to be punished for steroids during the year as England-based Irishman Gerard Butler copped a five year ban after being found guilty of seven charges relating to the use of substances containing the banned anabolic steroid stanozolol.

While Al Zarooni and Butler brought shame to the 'Sport of Kings' racing bid farewell to a legend whose integrity was unimpeachable.

Henry Cecil, from whom Sheikh Mohammed removed his horses in 1995 after a falling out, lost his long battle with cancer on June 11 at the age of 70 just months after his greatest horse Frankel retired after finishing unbeaten in 14 starts to a standing ovation at Ascot.

Such was the esteem that the 10-time British champion trainer was held in that over 1,000 people drawn from all walks of life crowded into Ely Cathedral in September for his memorial service.

Cecil's name, though, did not disappear from the winners enclosure as his widow Jane took over the license with the high point coming when she welcomed home two winners at the flagship Royal Ascot.

Cecil himself always had an eye for the ladies -- he was married three times -- and he would have been the first to celebrate a stunning year on the track for the fairer sex as they swept four of the most prestigious races on the calendar.

Two races that could claim to stop a nation -- the Grand National in England and the Melbourne Cup in Australia -- went to Sue Smith, wife of former leading showjumper Harvey, and Gai Waterhouse, whose original choice of career of acting saw her appear in an episode of Doctor Who.

The Breeders Cup Classic produced a fairytale result as 50-year-old Gary Stevens guided Mucho Macho Man to a hairsbreadth win to make Kathy Ritvo, who only a few years ago had a heart transplant, the first woman to train the winner of the race.

There was no such close run thing in Europe's most prestigious race the Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe as filly Treve cantered home to give trainer Criquette Head her second win in the race and justified Qatari owner Sheikh Joann al-Thani paying a reported 8million euros for her after she won the French Oaks earlier in the year.

The emergence of the Qataris as a force in racing is another factor to give Sheikh Mohammed pause for thought and their ambitions laid out in late November made it clear he is in their sights.

"Our goals and objectives are to be the best racing operation in the world," said Nasser Sherida Al Kaabi, Sheikh Joaan's media manager.

"We want the best horses, the best trainers and the best people."

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