'Prince Khalid was a class act; there was never any thought of a quick buck'
Former stud and racing manager James Delahooke on the founder of an empire
Influential bloodstock agent James Delahooke has joined the chorus of industry voices paying tribute to Khalid Abdullah, who died on Tuesday aged 83, describing the head of the Juddmonte empire as "a complete gentleman".
Delahooke was Abdullah's stud and racing manager from 1979 until 1985 and it was under his guidance that greats like Dancing Brave, Rainbow Quest and Razyana, dam of the breed-shaping Danehill, were brought into the Juddmonte fold.
"It's very sad," says Delahooke. "He was a wonderful man, a very clever man and a very funny man. He was delightful company and lunch with Prince Khalid and Jeremy Tree was one of life's treats. He loved to know what was going on in the racing world, the background gossip as well as the dyed in the wool racing stuff.
"He created Juddmonte, probably the greatest breeding operation in the world right now, through his own passion and enthusiasm. It was his thirst for knowledge and the love of his horses that meant it paid off for him. His breeding operation has been supreme."
Delahooke was instrumental in setting up the infrastructure of what has since become arguably the most revered breeding operation the world over, enlisting esteemed staff who remain at Juddmonte to this day as well as procuring land and stock that yielded generations of champions for Abdullah.
Among the Delahooke purchases who have endured in Juddmonte pedigrees are the likes of Sookera, granddam of the blue hen Hasili, whose brood includes five Group/Grade 1 winners – Banks Hill, Cacique, Champs Elysees, Heat Haze and Intercontinental – and the Group 1-placed Dansili, who later sired 21 elite scorers himself.
He also selected both the sire and dam of two of Abdullah's three Derby winners in Quest For Fame, by Rainbow Quest out of Aryenne, and Commander In Chief, by Dancing Brave and out of Slightly Dangerous.
Other buys whose acquisition had profound consequences for Abdullah include Rockfest, third dam of Frankel, and Fleet Girl, fourth dam of Enable.
Although Delahooke's association with Abdullah brought about epoch-defining results, their first encounter, which came while dining out in Deauville, was altogether more understated.
"I was having lunch with Guy Harwood in L'Hotel du Golf," recalls Delahooke. "There was only one other group in the room, a couple of gentlemen of Middle Eastern extraction, and when Guy summoned the maître d' to bring the bill, the maître d' said, 'The gentleman over there has already taken care of it'.
"We went over to thank him and that was the first time I met Prince Khalid. I was aware of who he was because I'd seen him at the sales occasionally with Humphrey Cotterill, but we'd never spoken. A while later I was summoned to London to meet him formally and was asked to take over, which was something I was very keen to do."
Delahooke says he "hadn't the faintest idea" what to expect from the meeting in London but, despite initially underestimating the magnitude of the offer, and the task at hand, says he needed little persuasion.
"I was very green and had no idea what to expect," he says. "I had no idea he was going to throw the ball to me and say, 'Now, what do we do? What's the plan?' The answer was, 'There isn't one! But we'll make one'.
"I had to go away and budget what I thought the first year was going to cost and how many mares and yearlings we would buy, and then that developed into buying stud farms and so forth. Everything was budgeted to the last penny, the whole thing was very businesslike."
When asked if he could have ever foreseen the success and influence Juddmonte would go on to exert, not only on the racing and bloodstock industries but the thoroughbred breed itself, his response is emphatic.
"No! How could you?" he says. "I'd been asked to meet a Middle Eastern potentate who wanted to have some horses. I had no idea of the scale of his vision. It certainly went beyond my horizons and possibly even beyond his own, but it was an exciting ride."
Delahooke echoed the sentiments that have been expressed far and wide across the racing industry as to the qualities Abdullah possessed, describing him as "delightful, encouraging, intelligent and very well briefed" as an employer.
He adds: "You'd better remember what you've said because he will! He was a delight to work with and a complete gentleman."
Having bred no fewer than 113 Group/Grade 1 winners, including some of the all-time greats such as Danehill, Enable, Kingman, Midday, Oasis Dream, Warning and Zafonic, it is the sheer vastness of Abdullah's achievement that will almost certainly define his legacy.
However, when asked to identify the pinnacle of Abdullah's involvement in breeding and racing, Delahooke says: "There are so many memories but I'd have to say that Frankel was the crowning glory of his achievements in breeding. To be so closely followed by Enable really sets the seal on what he set out to do.
"To have had those two horses in his lifetime is something that is remarkable and entirely deserved. He was a class act; there was never any thought of a quick buck, only of creating something very solid, very intrinsic and very admirable."
He adds: "It was a wonderful opportunity for me when I was asked to set it up, and I like to think I did a pretty good job. I also take great pride that some very good people who I brought into the fold still work at Juddmonte and have made their mark.
"People like Rory Mahon and Simon Mockridge have been there right from the beginning and are now at the very top of their respective fields. They have been immensely loyal and given great service to Juddmonte and Prince Khalid, and they will be devastated I'm sure."
It remains to be seen exactly what the future, both near and long-term, holds for the empire that Delahooke helped Abdullah to forge, but when the subject of what is to come is raised he concludes: "As long as it's run by horsemen and not by accountants, Juddmonte will continue to thrive and prosper."
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