Prince Khalid bin Abdullah, 1937–2021: A Personal Appreciation

He was born royal as a Prince in the House of Saud, but chose to spend much of his life among the sights, smells and people of the common horse world.

He became a successful businessman whose interests circled the globe, but the business that came to interest him most was success in Thoroughbred racing’s Winner’s Circle.

He was arguably among the world’s three most prominent and successful owners and breeders in the Sport of Kings, but chose to elude the visible celebrity that chases after that prominence and success.

He most recently owned and raced the world’s #1-ranked horse and its most valuable potential broodmare, but the sportsman in him offered her one more year to add to the racing immortality she and her rider sought.

The Thoroughbred world has had just over one week to absorb the impact of the passing of Prince Khalid bin Abdullah at 83, the founder of Juddmonte Farms and the breeder and owner who raced Dancing Brave, Frankel, Arrogate and, most recently, Enable to worldwide racing glory.

The passing of anyone at an age that bespeaks so generous a span of life should not be surprising. It was instead shocking to the horse world because there had been no indication that it was imminent.

Juddmonte Farms, which was founded by Prince Khalid in 1980 and was home to his worldwide breeding and racing operations, updated its history in recent days, in part to account for the passing of its founder. His passing was originally announced to be at age 83. That updated history now marks the age of his passing as 85.

Elusive to the end.

Whether at age 83 or 85, that passing in this updated Juddmonte history remains marked by nothing more than the restraint of the identical statement released on the morning of the day of his passing Jan. 12:

In 2021, Juddmonte was sad to announce the death of His Highness Prince Khalid bin Abdullah, who died peacefully on Tuesday 12th January. Douglas Erskine Crum, CEO Juddmonte, said: “The whole of Juddmonte feels a huge sense of loss. Prince Khalid will always be remembered as a quiet, dignified, benevolent family man, whose horses spoke for him.

He leaves a legacy that will stand the test of time. His contribution to the development of the thoroughbred will have long-lasting effects.”

In the context of that last sentence, a reading of the history of Juddmonte Farms contribution to the development of the Thoroughbred is dizzying, reading like a who-begat-whom Biblical recounting of breeding success. It can be read in full on the Juddmonte Farms website.

A personal reflection on a lost opportunity

I have been privileged to cover Thoroughbred racing and other equine events for over a decade. Ironically, the origin of that privilege was abetted by Prince Khalid’s most recently prominent rider, Frankie Dettori, the regular rider of Enable.

Related reading: I’ve got Some Things to Say About Dubai and Frankie Dettori

Over the course of that decade-plus in Dubai, Hong Kong and throughout the U.S., I’ve met and gained insight into the world’s most prominent owners, breeders, trainers, jockeys and, of course, horses.

Most recently, it was the pairing of Prince Khalid’s Enable and regular rider Frankie Dettori that jetted me off to Paris for last year’s Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and her first of two—both unsuccessful—attempts at winning a third Arc.

Absent a win that day, I did not meet the Prince in the Longchamp Winner’s Circle in Paris.

But there was the newly inaugurated Saudi Cup. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was new to international racing prominence. The sport has been popular there for several years, but mostly with homebreds and no international stars or races. The inaugural Saudi Cup would change that.

Championed by Prince Khalid, it was to be the world’s richest race and attracted internationally prominent entries, among them first-place finisher but disqualified Kentucky Derby winner Maximum Security—the eventual winner—and the world’s top U.S. female Midnight Bisou, the eventual runner-up. Accredited, surely I would attend and finally have the opportunity to meet the Prince that week.

Then came the early reports of COVID-19 and the forced cancellation of my travel plans.

Still there was my planned return to this year’s Arc when Enable would race again; however, as an American, I was banned from even entering France because of the pandemic.

I hope to attend next month’s second running of the Saudi Cup, but Prince Khalid will be there in spirit alone.

So, for me and all fans of Prince Khalid, of Juddmonte and of his runners, another part of that brief statement must suffice: Prince Khalid will always be remembered as a quiet, dignified, benevolent family man, whose horses spoke for him.

“…whose horses spoke for him.”

So, we’ll let Prince Khalid’s horses, trainers and riders speak for him as a breeder and owner, humanitarian and sportsman.

Early racing success is rare

It’s rare for new breeding operations to enjoy early racing success, but Prince Khalid entered the world of Thoroughbred breeding and ownership with a distinct advantage—a keen eye for broodmares and deep pockets.

He began Juddmonte with only one, Metair. The daughter of Laser Light (out of Treatisan by Milesian) was a private purchase and has the distinction of foaling Juddmonte’s first homebred winner, Fine Edge, in April 1982.

That was a key year for Juddmonte, a year when Prince Khalid purchased the three-year-old filly Slightly Dangerous following a single stakes win. Slightly Dangerous was only slightly dangerous as a racehorse. She would race only twice, but would become a second—and highly successful—broodmare for Juddmonte, foaling three Group 1 and one Group 2 winners.

Later in 1982, Prince Khalid purchased working stud farms in County Meath, Ireland and in Lexington, Kentucky. Those purchases included broodmares and stallions that established Juddmonte as an international force in Thoroughbred breeding. It’s nascent racing arm would also be aided by the addition of Fleet Girl, fourth dam to Enable, to Juddmonte’s growing broodmare band.

In August, Prince Khalid purchased eventual Group 1 winner and later a successful sire, Rainbow Quest, at the Fasig-Tipton Yearling sale. He also purchased Razyana, later the dam of Danehill, at that same sale.

If 1982 established Juddmonte as a force in the breeding world, 1983 sowed the seeds of generational racing success. Prince Khalid purchased additional breeding stock from the estate of Jock Whitney that year. Among the horses included was Rockfest, destined to become the great-grandam of the incomparable Frankel.

The World’s Best Racehorse:  Round One

Dancing Brave. CREDIT: Juddmonte

No, that was not Frankel; before Frankel, there was Dancing Brave.

Prince Khalid returned to the Fasig-Tipton Yearling sale in 1984. His keen eye would spot the late foal (May 11, 1983) that would become Juddmonte’s first genuine racing star, Dancing Brave.

The highly regarded Lyphard colt did not come cheaply as a $200,000 purchase ($510,000 in 2021 dollars), nor did he race immediately. He was instead entrusted to trainer Guy Harwood who brought him along slowly.

After his first start the following autumn, a win, jockey Greville Starkey was said to remark, “That’s my (Epsom) Derby ride!”

Dancing Brave’s three-year-old racing season in 1986 was nothing short of brilliant. He won six consecutive graded stakes including four G1s. Among those victories were races that would be familiar years later to fans of Enable as preps for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

That 1986 Arc is considered to have had one of the finest fields ever entered in Europe’s most prestigious race. Despite his winning ways that year in England, Dancing Brave was not the Arc favorite, bettors favoring French runner Bering.

It was Dancing Brave’s finest race, one in which he established a course record. Following his Arc victory, Dancing Brave was awarded a then record high rating of 141.

Dancing Brave was brilliant that year, but not perfect. He would lose the Epsom Derby, then known as the Derby Stakes, to Shahrastrani, but later defeat that opponent in a rematch.

Entered in that year’s Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) at Santa Anita, he lost weight during the flight to California and would finish only fourth. He was later found to also have been struck in the eye by a clod of turf during the race, which may have contributed to the defeat.

Despite two significant losses, Dancing Brave earned honors as European Horse of the Year and Champion 3-year-old in both England and France. His meteoric year summons the memory of another Juddmonte runner who would come decades later, Arrogate.

Dancing Brave was retired to Delham Hall Stud at Newmarket after a half share in him was sold by Prince Khalid to his friend, Sheikh Mohammed, the owner of Godolphin.

His performance in the breeding barn did not entirely duplicate his racing brilliance, though he did sire two classic winners for Prince Khalid. He also was broodmare sire of multiple G1 winner, Juddmonte stallion Oasis Dream.

Dancing Brave was sold to stand in Japan in 1991 where he passed away from a heart attack in 1999.

The World’s Best Racehorse: Round Two

Sir Henry Cecil and his prize pupil Frankel. CREDIT Channel 4

Ask any European to name history’s best racehorse and the undoubted answer will be Frankel. Timeform twice rated Frankel 147. World Thoroughbred Rankings officially awarded the Galileo colt (out of Kind by Danehill) history’s highest-ever rating.

His name was chosen as a tribute to champion trainer Bobby Frankel who died of Leukemia in 2009 at age 68. When the process of naming new Juddmonte yearlings began at the end of that year, it was decided the one chosen the very best would bear that name as a tribute.

Frankel beat out 169 other Juddmonte yearlings to earn his name and, during the course of his racing career, proved worthy of the distinction by beating every other horse that faced him, often in multiple-length fashion.

Retired Juddmonte Stud Groom Jim Power recalls Frankel as “a sensitive horse, with a slight air of arrogance about him—really top class racehorses often have that character. He was very inquisitive and attentive to what was going on around him. He was the type of foal who would defy you not to take notice of him. He never gave you any problems, but he was always a character.”

Frankel spent a year in the tranquility of Ireland being weaned and started under saddle before being sent to train under prominent—often for all the wrong reasons—British trainer Sir Henry Cecil. 

Cecil was as much of a character as his new charge. More often than once, Cecil was the subject of those legendary Fleet Street London tabloid scandals. Once commanding a barn with hundreds of runners and winners each year, public improprieties reduced his barn to a handful in the new century.

But Prince Khalid had worked with Cecil early in Juddmonte’s time and the Prince was known to be both a compassionate man and one who placed great trust in his trainers.

If his personal reputation was lacking on occasion, Sir Henry’s reputation as an instinctive horseman was unquestioned. He was particularly adept at reigning in the rambunctious nature of yearlings like Frankel, training them to run within themselves, maximizing their physical gifts.

Prince Khalid’s choice of Cecil to guide his prize colt would not be the last time he would extend the opportunity for redemption to a publicly fallen man.

Frankel broke his maiden Aug. 13, 2010 at Newmarket, defeating frequent foe Nathaniel in pouring rain. A 13-length’s victory in the Condition Stakes followed. He moved into graded company with a 10-length’s Group 2 victory at Ascot in the Royal Lodge Stakes and finished the year with his first Group 1 win in the Dewhurst Stakes at Newmarket.

Frankel clearly proved himself the best of the three-year-old class in 2011. His performance in the QIPCO 2000 Guineas has between described as “one of the great displays on a British racecourse”:

He followed with a powerful display in the Queen Elizabeth II Stakes at Ascot:

Undefeated in nine starts, usually winning by open lengths,  European Champion Cartier Horse of the Year and the highest-rated horse in history, Frankel could easily have been retired from racing to a valuable stud career.

But the British public wanted more from their champion. Huge increases in attendance at his races, what became known as “The Frankel Factor,” became the norm. Prince Khalid, ever the sportsman, obliged by keeping him in training as a four-year-old.

Frankel’s 2012 season was again exceptional. But it was also poignant: trainer Cecil had been diagnosed with metastatic cancer. There was of course the inescapably ironic connection between horse and trainer, in how Frankel had gotten his name and his trainer’s grave illness.

Cecil remained in charge of his charge, scheduling over 700 hours of chemotherapy around training sessions and race dates. Frankel grew stronger, even as the tall and elegant dandy Cecil grew drawn and weaker.

But the 2012 winning continued, in the Lockinge, the Sussex and the Queen Anne Stakes, thought by many to be his finest race:

The one criticism of Frankel was that he had never run a race longer than 8 furlongs: no Epsom Derby, no Paris Arc. Often the frontrunner, there was doubt he could stay the longer distance. He was considered by many the racing equivalent of Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt. His connections were aware of that criticism and would answer it successfully in 2012—twice. First at the Juddmonte International:

Frankel would leave racing by placing an exclamation point on an undefeated career on perhaps the most challenging day of that career, a race over 10.5 furlongs—his longest ever—on a soft course. His last race was overseen by a tearful Sir Henry Cecil, then in his own last year. He would pass away June 11, 2013, kept alive till then many say by Frankel.

Frankel was retired as a stallion to Banstead Manor Stud after this final race where he still stands. His lifetime record of 14-0-0, all under jockey Tom Queally, includes 10 G1 victories. He earned two Cartier Awards as European Champion Horse in both 2011 and 2012, making him the only horse to win consecutive Cartiers. He remains the highest rated horse in history.

“He was like a meteor: swift, brilliant, gone too soon….”

Juddmonte had by now become a stable that bred to race. But Arrogate, an Unbridled’s Song colt (out of Bubbler by Distorted Humor) was outside that new Juddmonte norm. He represented a return to the Farm’s roots, a yearling purchase at the 2014 Keeneland September sale. Adjusted for inflation, his $560,000 price tag was higher than that of Frankel.

Arrogate was Prince Khalid’s first Dubai World Cup winner in 2017. CREDIT Richard R. Gross

He was entrusted to American trainer Bob Baffert with the goal of racing him as a dirt horse in the U.S. The April 11, 2016 foal didn’t race until he was a three-year-old, unusually late for a dirt horse racing in America, ensuring he would not race in the Kentucky Derby and the other Triple Crown races. But Prince Khalid trusted the judgement of his trainers.

That trust paid racecourse and financial dividends.

His maiden at Los Alamitos resulted in only a third-place finish, but he followed that up with a win at Santa Anita, the first of seven consecutive victories.

His first big test came in August at Saratoga, the aptly nicknamed “Graveyard of Champions.”

For Arrogate, it was a Birthplace. In what was described as “a performance for the ages,” the leggy grey smoked a quality field by 12-plus lengths over the classic mile-and-a-quarter in record time for the 155-year-old race known as the mid-summer (Kentucky) Derby.

It was then back to California for rest before the Breeders’ Cup Classic at his home Santa Anita track. There, he headed off dual classic winner and fan favorite California Chrome.

Then came the inaugural running of the Pegasus on Jan. 28, 2017, now the world’s richest single race with a $12 million purse. Arrogate added a 4 1/2-length’s win to his expanding resume.

World-class racehorses want to conquer the world. And so it was that Arrogate jetted off to Dubai two months later to cement his world-class legacy. He went off as the shortest-priced favorite in the race’s history.

At first, the day and the race did not go so well.

One long-time Dubai-based trainer described that Dubai World Cup day as the “wettest I’ve experienced in 20 years.”

In the darkening Dubai evening, on a mushy dirt track, Arrogate broke very late from the gate. Long-time Dubai race caller Terry Spargo announced with some urgency that Arrogate was “Dead last!”

“If someone asked what’s the greatest race you’ve ever witnessed? It would be Arrogate winning Dubai.”

Trainer Bob Baffert speaking to CNN

Dubai and the Dubai World Cup have always been a personal favorite for me. The place is a tribute to the foresight of Emirati leadership, the Meydan Racecourse a wonder, Dubai World Cup week the best week of my year.

That writ, 2017 was special.

These years later, I still keep the audio clip I recorded from Bob Baffert and Mike Smith’s post-Dubai World Cup media interview. This is a portion:

Bob Baffert talks about his 2017 Dubai World Cup winner Arrogate post-race. CREDIT Richard R. Gross

“When he missed the break, I was thinking ‘Boy, maybe I shouldn’t have brought him; maybe he’s getting tired. All these things were going through my mind…I was telling my wife, Jill: ‘I got this great horse…he’s dead last.’ On the backstretch, I didn’t know if he was running or not. I saw Mike (Smith) was just sitting on the outside and I thought: ‘Well, maybe, Mike will take care of him, won’t abuse him.’ Then in the far turn, he started making’ a little move and I thought: ‘Wait a minute….’ I got a little hope. And, when he turned for home, I told my wife, ‘If he wins this race, he’s the most incredible horse I’ve ever seen.’ And here he comes, and I knew once he had ‘em…he’s got that long stride…he sees a target in front of him and I knew… I got really emotional like…I was watching something like…it was like watching a Hollywood movie…like watching ‘Seabiscuit.’

I think what we saw today was…I think he stamped his legacy…like, how incredible was this horse….”

During that same interview, Mike Smith would call this the best race he had ever run, better even than his Breeders’ Cup Classic win with Zenyatta.

And, with that race, that victory, Arrogate was done. He returned home and would race again, never the same horse having left his soul along with his legacy on that messy track in Dubai.

He was retired to stud at the end of the year, crowned Longines World’s Best Racehorse in both 2016 and 2017, and the greatest money-winner in American Thoroughbred racing history with $17,422,600 earnings.

Earlier this year, he was peacefully laid to rest, the victim of an undisclosed neurological disorder:

Related reading: Arrogate Dies

Arrogate is gone, but on that one day in Dubai, Prince Khalid’s Arrogate became immortal.

Arrogate has left the building. The 2017 Dubai World Cup winner leaving Meydan. CREDIT Richard R. Gross

“My Girl”

Sir Henry Cecil was not Prince Khalid’s only humanitarian project.

Lanfranco Dettori, “Frankie” to his myriad of fans, was a retained jockey for Sheikh Mohammed’s Godolphin racing. Beginning in the early 90s, he was among the world’s most successful jockeys, perhaps the best.

Enable and jockey Frankie Dettori in the post parade before the 2019 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in Paris. CREDIT Richard R. Gross

Frankie holds a special place for me. As I’ve reported and recounted earlier here, his gracious gift of a 2009 phone call and interview from his jockey room at Newmarket to my office in Dubai a scant 20 minutes before his first race of the day resulted in the chain of stories that find me on this page today.

But as the 90s moved into the ‘oughts and the ‘oughts to the teens, Dettori’s Godolphin star dimmed. In 2012, he found himself demoted, offered fewer rides, losing better horses to younger riders.

In a 2013 interview with the UK’s Channel 4 Clare Balding, Dettori revealed a downward spiral:

“It started from there (the demotion). There was never an explanation why or what. I had to kind of accept it for unknown reasons. You start getting depressed. I wasn’t sleeping at night and I was arguing with my wife. But then you think ‘maybe I’ll be alright next week, maybe I’ll be back in favour.’ But then things kept on getting worse, and my head was wrecked, absolutely wrecked. I couldn’t take it anymore.”

Seeking the acceptance he had grown accustomed to receiving, Dettori accepted a ride on Camelot, a horse raced by Coolmore, Godolphin’s leading rival.

Godolphin later announced Dettori would not be retained for the 2013 season. Perhaps sealing his fate, it was later revealed he had tested positive for cocaine at France’s Longchamp in September 2013.

Abandoned by Godolphin, he also received a six-month racing ban.

Dettori returned to Europe and picked up rides as he could. His reputation followed him but his skills never deserted him. He began winning again.

Four years on from his suspension, he was offered a ride by British trainer John Gosden on a raw but promising three-year-old filly owned by Prince Khalid.

Her name seems almost fateful: Enable.

The pair would pair for 18 races. They would win 15 including consecutive runnings of the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe in 2017 and 2018 and a historic three King George VI and Queen Elizabeth Stakes.

After the second Arc victory, she would ship to the U.S. and Churchill Downs, KY to achieve what had eluded her stable predecessor, Dancing Brave: victory in what might be the most memorable Breeders’ Cup Turf (G1) ever run. It is among the handful of races fans never tire of watching:

Enable was now the world’s number-one-rated racehorse and looked to seal her legacy as the favorite in the 2019 Arc. But on a rain-softened Longchamp course, old rival Waldgeist and young rider Pierre-Charles Boudot would deny her a third consecutive Arc.

There was little to gain by continuing to race Enable. Young and sound, she would prove a worthy addition to the broodmare stock at Juddmonte.

But lobbied by redeemed rider Dettori and a fan base that now encircled the globe, the sportsman in Prince Khalid again surfaced. He chose to keep his prize mare in training with the goal of winning that historic third Arc in 2020.

Fate and the fickle fall Parisian weather would again deny Enable and Dettori a final chance at the history they sought. Their second attempt at a third Arc victory evaporated on a rain-soaked course before the empty Longchamp grandstand in pandemic-ravaged Paris.

Enable was retired, having earned the stamp of racing immortality and having helped grace her rider with a full measure of redemption, courtesy of his beloved Enable, “My girl,” and her beloved owner, Prince Khalid.

That redemption is so full in fact that Lanfranco Dettori was once again back at Dubai’s Meydan Racecourse last week, racing to victory in his first ride and win in Godolphin’s famed royal blue silks since Opinion Poll in March 2012.

Full circle.

I never did get to meet Prince Khalid bin Abdullah. But perhaps, like all racing fans, we met in the way he would have wanted to meet, through his horses and riders.

I met him in 2009 when Frankie Dettori gave me the brief interview that would lead me to the lengthy media privilege I continue to enjoy.

I met him in 2017 when I witnessed Arrogate give one of the greatest performances in Thoroughbred racing history in that Dubai World Cup and later was privileged to give the winner a congratulatory scratch on the nose as he was de-saddled.

I met him in Paris in 2019 when Enable whisked by me, a mere arm’s-length away, in the post-parade before the Arc.

I never met Prince Khalid bin Abdullah in person; yet he has gifted me with unforgettable memories.

So, from Dancing Brave and Frankel; from Arrogate and Enable; from Sir Henry Cecil and Bob Baffert; from Frankie Dettori and Mike Smith. From myself and the thousands of fans who have thrilled to the performances of the horses you have bred and raced for over four decades:

Thank you, Prince Khalid bin Abdullah, for your contributions to the Thoroughbred and to Thoroughbred racing, for your generosity to its participants and fans.

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Prince Khalid bin Abdullah, 1937–2021: A Personal Appreciation