Human rights group wants UAE prime minister banned from Kentucky Derby over his missing daughter

·3 min read

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission received a complaint this week from a human rights group and Louisville students in an effort to ban a Kentucky Derby favorite from competing over allegations that Dubai’s ruler orchestrated the disappearance of his own daughter.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates who has long attempted to succeed at the Kentucky Derby, has his horse Essential Quality set to run in the annual race on Saturday at Churchill Downs. Essential Quality has opened as the early favorite for the 147th running.

The complaint filed against him asked that the racing commission ban him from entering any horses in the race “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,” according to The Associated Press.

Allegations against Sheikh Mohammed

A panel of United Nations human rights experts last week asked Dubai for proof that Sheikh Mohammed’s daughter, Sheikha Latfia, was still alive and demanded her release, per The New York Times. Videos have surfaced of her in recent years in which she has said that she’s been imprisoned in a Dubai palace and is scared for her life.

The 35-year-old reportedly fled the country in 2018 on a yacht, but was later turned over after Indian commandos seized her boat. She has been seen in public just once since.

A Britain judge last year determined that Sheikh Mohammed abducted another one of his daughters, Shamsa, from Cambridge in 2000 and took her back to Dubai, per the Times. His youngest wife, Princess Haya, also left the country and said she was subject to intimidation and harassment.

He has also been accused of “encouraging the abduction and enslavement of boys” for jockeys in camel races, had a trainer banned for authorizing steroids for horses and more.

Despite all of the allegations against him, however, Sheikh Mohammed’s various business ventures — including his massive Goldphin stables in Kentucky — seems to have provided him shelter in the horse racing world.

From The New York Times:

After all, Sheikh Mo, as he is known here, is a one-man economic impact event. He employs hundreds of Kentuckians. Most Septembers, he arrives at Blue Grass Airport by private jumbo jet for the Keeneland yearling sale. He examines horses alongside hardboot breeders and owners, often sporting a windbreaker in the royal blue of his family’s Godolphin racing stable.

And Sheikh Mo spends — hundreds of millions of dollars, so far, winning some auctions and driving up prices on the horses that he underbids on.

As Arthur Hancock III, a fourth-generation thoroughbred breeder, once put it: “If one September that big old plane wasn’t at the airport, you would have a whole lot of hearts sinking around here.”

Will Sheikh Mohammed get banned from the Derby?

Probably not.

As the sport’s biggest race is set to kick off on Saturday, it’s unlikely that either the racing commission or Churchill Downs takes any action in time.

The KHRC did not respond to The Associated Press about the complaint, though Churchill Downs spokesman Darren Rogers said that they are simply focused on the race.

“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, via The Associated Press. “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.”

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