The Sheikh of Dubai dropped $16 million on 10 horses at a September auction. Here the wildest things I saw on his 800-acre horse farm in Kentucky.
Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai, is an avid horse-racing fan. He owns Godolphin, a worldwide thoroughbred breeding and racing operation that operates in Dubai, the US, the UK, Ireland, Australia, and Japan. At this year's Keeneland yearling sale in September — the largest horse sale in the world — the Sheikh spent $16 million on 10 horses. In the US, the center of the Sheikh's horse business is in Lexington, Kentucky, the "horse capital of the world," where he owns the 800-acre Jonabell Farm. I recently got a tour of Jonabell Farm, which is home to Kentucky Derby winners and one of the country's top breeding stallions, who has a $200,000 stud fee. The barns are immaculate and have skylights, each horse has its own personal fan keeping its stall cool, and fences are made out of a material that's twice as expensive as the wooden fencing typically used on horse farms. Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
Sheikh Mohammed, the ruler of Dubai and the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, is an avid horse-racing fan. The 70-year-old owns Godolphin, a worldwide thoroughbred breeding and racing operation that operates in Dubai, the US, the UK, Ireland, Australia, and Japan. The center of the Sheikh's US horse operation is Jonabell Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, the city known as the "horse capital of the world." Jonabell Farm is home to Kentucky Derby winners as well as one of the country's top breeding stallions, Medaglia d'Oro, who has a $200,000 stud fee. On a recent trip to Kentucky, I got a tour of the 800-acre horse farm. Keep reading for a look inside.SEE ALSO: The life of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the emir of Dubai, poet, racehorse tycoon, and husband to Princess Haya, who is suing him in London DON'T MISS: I spent 4 days in the 'horse capital of the world,' where the barns look more like estates and billionaires convene for the world's largest horse sale. Here's what life looks like in Kentucky's second-biggest city. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai since 2006, is an avid horse-racing fan.
As a child, he reportedly battled in bareback races with his friends on the sands of Dubai's Jumeirah Beach. In 1996, he brought horse racing to Dubai by launching the Dubai World Cup, which has a $12 million winner's purse — the largest in the world. At this year's Keeneland yearling sale in September — the largest horse sale in the world — the Sheikh spent $16 million on 10 horses. The Sheikh is the owner of Godolphin, a global horse racing organization. The thoroughbred stallion division is called Darley.
Sheikh Mohammed bought his first stallion farm in the UK in 1981, kicking off his thoroughbred stallion breeding operation. In 1986, a year after the first Emirates flight took off, the Sheikh bought yet another horse farm, this one in Ireland. In 2001, Sheikh Mohammed bought Jonabell Farm, an 800-acre horse farm in Lexington, Kentucky, the "horse capital of the world." On a recent trip to Kentucky, I drove out to the Sheikh's Jonabell Farm. I got my first hint of the fact that this was no ordinary farm when I first pulled up to it ...
... and had to pass through a security gatehouse to get in.
I was stopped at this gate, to the left of which was a security gatehouse (not pictured because I was scared of getting in trouble). A Godolphin employee took down my name and checked it inside before letting me pass. Inside, I found that the Sheikh has a room filled with dozens of gleaming horse-racing trophies.
Godolphin horses have won England's Royal Ascot, the Dubai World Cup, the Irish Derby, and more. The barns are absolutely immaculate, with gleaming wooden panels and skylights.
"As you can probably tell, Sheikh Mohammed has a lot of money to spend on his horses," a Godolphin employee told us during the tour of the farm. "This is his favorite hobby other than his airline, Emirates. So he spends a lot of money here on the farm and takes really good care of his horses." And if that isn't enough, each horse has its own personal fan blowing into its stall.
Each stall was outfitted with fresh, clean straw and a window. No expense is spared for the horses at Jonabell. Just consider the fences: They aren't made out of wood. Instead, they’re made of a special material that can cost twice as much.
Jonabell uses centaur fencing, a type of flexible fencing made of polymer that's meant to be safer for horses, who can injure themselves on traditional wooden rail fences. Centaur fencing can be up to twice as expensive than the oak plank fences usually used on Kentucky horse farms. But it's more cost-effective over time, Tara Nesmith of Centaur Fencing Systems told me in an email. "Continuous maintenance such as painting and board replacement adds to the overall expense of owning a wooden fence over time," Nesmith said, noting that Centaur "... is a high tensile fence system that requires little maintenance, therefore saving money over the life of ownership." That brings me to the breeding shed. The shed, where mares from farms all over Kentucky come to breed with Godolphin's stallions, has padded walls and nonslip rubber flooring.
The breeding process seemed downright bizarre to me as an outsider of the horse industry. During the breeding season, which lasts from February to around the end of June, the stallions at Jonabell will breed with multiple mares per day at three designated times: 7:30 a.m., 1:30 p.m., and 6:30 p.m. One stallion on the farm isn't there for breeding, but to act as a "teaser stallion." Before a mare is brought into the breeding shed, she's held in a nearby stall that shares a window with an adjacent stall. The teaser stallion will poke his head through the window, and if everything goes according to plan, the mare will signal that she's ready to breed by peeing, turning her butt toward him, and lifting her tail. Then she's brought in to breed with the actual breeding stallion. About eight people are in the room during the breeding process, all wearing helmets. They put soft boots onto the mare's back feet in case she kicks. "We try and make this process as safe as possible because at the end of the day, you are dealing with a 1,500-pound stallion and a 1,000-pound mare — probably a little bit heavier because they're usually pretty fat," the tour guide told us. The breeding itself only takes a few minutes. As the stallion dismounts, the veterinarian will catch a sample of his sperm and test it to make sure it's good sperm. If not, the mare will come back and they'll try again. Godolphin stallions have a 90% success rate of getting mares pregnant. Jonabell Farm is home to Medaglia d'Oro, one of the most expensive breeding stallions in the world. It costs $200,000 to breed a mare with him.
His stud fee is $200,000, meaning he could rake in millions in a single breeding season. That's more than eight times more than the average stud fee in North America, which is about $24,000. My tour of Jonabell Farm couldn't have been more different from my visit to one of Kentucky's most prestigious horse farms: Claiborne Farm, a 3,000-acre, 109-year-old farm that's been visited by Queen Elizabeth II — twice. Legendary racehorses Secretariat and Seabiscuit both lived at the farm, and 2013 Derby winner Orb currently resides there. While I was impressed by how Claiborne pampered their horses, after I toured Jonabell Farm, I realized Sheikh Mohammed's farm was on a whole other level. From the high-security entrance to the barns with skylights, it was clear the Sheikh of Dubai spares no expense on his precious horses.