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Thursday, 24 January, 2019

Sheikh Mohammed instigates return of the maroon and white

Sheikh Mohammed with daughter Sheikha Al Jalila, son Sheikh Zayed and their new racing colours
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Gone but not forgotten – and now to be revived.

The famous maroon and white silks synonymous with so many turf champions, including Oh So Sharp, Pebbles and Singspiel, are being brought back to Britain's racecourses by Sheikh Mohammed.

The sport's biggest owner will continue to front the global Godolphin operation – in whose blue silks Harry Angel won the Darley July Cup on Saturday on the sheikh's 68th birthday – but a partnership linked to his daughter, Sheikha Al Jalila, now has a string of horses in training at Newmarket with John Gosden who will soon begin to appear on tracks.

The colours of maroon, white sleeves and maroon cap with white star were listed in the latest edition of the Racing Calendar as registered to Sheikha Al Jalila Racing. 

Sheikh Mohammed and Princess Haya's daughter Sheikha Al Jalila is to race a string of horses in her father's old maroon and white silks

In a further nod to nostalgia, the blue and white colours carried to victory by Hatta, Sheikh Mohammed's first winner as an owner at Brighton 40 years ago, have been registered to the Dubai ruler's son Sheikh Zayed.

Sheikh Mohammed told the Racing Post: "These colours represented for me many different chapters of my journey in the racing world. They were associated with some of the most joyful memories and will be forever connected to some of the greatest equine legends and inspiring training and horsemanship.

"I am so proud to pass them on to my children, Jalila and Zayed, who both share my passion for horses, love of this sport, and are developing the greatest respect for the racing family."

A golden era

The maroon and white became some of Flat racing's most dominant colours during a golden era through the 1980s into the late 1990s.

Many of Sheikh Mohammed's major stars at the time were trained by Henry Cecil and Michael Stoute, who both at that point had still to be knighted, and achieved fame under riders such as Steve Cauthen, Walter Swinburn and Pat Eddery.

Under Cecil's tutelage at Warren Place – now owned by Sheikh Mohammed and set to become a training yard for Godolphin – Oh So Sharp completed the fillies' Triple Crown in 1985, sweeping the 1,000 Guineas, Oaks and St Leger to secure a place in the annals of racing.

Oh So Sharp wins the 1985 Oaks, the middle leg of her Triple Crown, under Steve Cauthen

After being acquired by Sheikh Mohammed following her victory in the 1,000 Guineas, the Clive Brittain-trained Pebbles achieved arguably even greater standing, when in the same year as Oh So Sharp's Classic hat-trick, she dazzled in the Eclipse, Champion Stakes and Breeders' Cup Turf.

The last-named race was also won in the sheikh's old colours by In The Wings, trained by another long-time ally Andre Fabre, who sent out Carnegie to win the 1994 Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe in maroon and white.

A few years earlier Indian Skimmer had been another mare to achieve superstar status for Sheikh Mohammed, whose outstanding British-trained colts included champion sprinter Ajdal, dual Derby hero Old Vic, brilliant miler Barathea and, most recently, globetrotter Singspiel, whose string of triumphs featured the Dubai World Cup, Japan Cup, Canadian International and Juddmonte International.

Indian Skimmer and Sheikh Mohammed after the 1987 Prix de Diane

By the time Singspiel was winning those races Godolphin had already announced itself with a big bang, meaning that over the following years the maroon and white began to disappear from public view.

The last year they were regularly seen in Britain was 2007, when they were carried to success on 58 occasions, although they continued to be used in Ireland for some time after that.

Sheikh Mohammed is looking forward to seeing his daughter Sheikha Al Jalila, who accompanied her father and mother, Princess Haya, during what proved to be a hugely successful Royal Ascot for Godolphin, carrying on a family tradition.

'Commitment, dedication and love'

Sheikh Mohammed said: "My daughter Jalila is completely passionate about racing. She spends hours in the stables, happy to feed and groom. She follows the horses' work and discusses it at great length with me.

"That commitment, dedication, and real love she has for Newmarket and the people in racing means so much to me.

"I truly hope these colours bring her and her generation as many moments of joy as they have for me and the people of racing with which I have had the privilege to share them."

Seven stars in the maroon and white

Oh So Sharp

By repelling a series of challenges down the Doncaster home straight Oh So Sharp in 1985 became the first filly since Meld in 1955 to complete the fillies' Triple Crown, having previously come out on top in a three-way photo for the 1,000 Guineas and thumped the brilliant Triptych in the Oaks.

Steve Cauthen, then in his first year as stable jockey to Henry Cecil, was in the saddle for all three Classic triumphs.


Described by commentator Tom Durkin as "England's superfilly" when sweeping to victory on her swansong in the Breeders' Cup Turf, Pebbles enjoyed a sensational 1985, becoming the first of her sex ever to win the Eclipse before later thrashing runaway Derby winner Slip Anchor in the Champion Stakes en route to America.

Sheikh Mohammed, who became the owner of Pebbles after buying her following her success in the 1984 1,000 Guineas, paid €240,000 to supplement her for the Breeders' Cup Turf.

That proved an extremely shrewd move when she became one of Britain's first truly great stars on the international stage.


As the 1986 Dewhurst winner, Ajdal was considered the one to beat in the following year's 2,000 Guineas, especially after taking the Craven. Then, though, he was beaten in the Newmarket Classic, the Irish 2,000 Guineas and Derby before Michael Stoute dramatically changed tack.

Ajdal wins the 1987 William Hill Sprint Championship (now the Nunthorpe) at York under Walter Swinburn

Sent sprinting, Ajdal captured the July Cup and what are now the Nunthorpe and Haydock Sprint Cup, all under Walter Swinburn.

Explaining the decision to halve Ajdal's distance in the July Cup, Stoute later said: "It was one of the biggest mistakes, but he got me out of trouble."

Indian Skimmer

Indian Skimmer tested Henry Cecil's skills and patience perhaps as much as any filly he trained, but she was worth it, for some reckon she was the best he ever had.

Runaway winner of the Musidora, the Prix Saint-Alary and the Prix de Diane at three before suffering a back injury, she was slow to hit top gear on her return but was simply sensational when taking the Irish Champion Stakes, Sun Chariot and Champion Stakes on successive starts.

Old Vic

When in his pomp, at Chantilly and the Curragh in the summer of 1989, Old Vic was magnificent.

His stunning all-the-way victory in the Prix du Jockey Club was one of the most clinical in the race's history, while his follow-up success in the Irish Derby for Steve Cauthen and Henry Cecil was equally meritorious, given he raced with an abscess described by his legendary trainer as "twice the size of a golf ball" that required foam pads to be placed under the saddle area.


Aided by the mastery of Michael Stoute, Singspiel conquered the world on a regular basis.

In little over six months, he landed the Canadian International, Japan Cup and Dubai World Cup before excelling on home soil to take both the Coronation Cup and Juddmonte International in 1997.

In a 20-race career that showed his consistency and durability, he also chased home stablemate Pilsudski in the Breeders' Cup Turf.


There were many other superb horses who raced in the maroon and white, including milers Pennekamp, Soviet Star and Sure Blade, top middle-distance performers Opera House and Belmez, dual Gold Cup victor Sadeem and wonderful fillies like Sonic Lady, Musical Bliss, Intrepidity, Diminuendo and Unite.

A different discipline but the same colours as Kribensis and Richard Dunwoody head for victory in the 1990 Champion Hurdle

However, Sheikh Mohammed also dabbled in jumping, winning the Champion Hurdle with Royal Gait in 1992 and, two years earlier, with an even more superior performer, the Michael Stoute-trained and Richard Dunwoody-ridden Kribensis. 

It will be wonderful to see these famous colours back on the racetrack
E.W. Terms
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