Princess Haya

Clare Balding talks to Princess Haya

Clare Balding gives an insight into the history behind Princess Haya’s win at the Derby 2009

The Royal connection with horse racing goes back centuries. James I was largely responsible for Newmarket becoming the headquarters of racing while Charles I and his son Charles II were both enthusiastic followers of the sport. As a rider, Charles II twice won the Newmarket Plate, a long distance race for amateurs and it was under his reign that it became known as ‘The Sport of Kings’.

Queen Anne founded Ascot racecourse in 1711 and, as the world knows, Queen Elizabeth II is an enthusiastic and knowledgeable owner and breeder.

As for royalty from abroad, Prince Khalid Abdulla of Saudi Arabia has won the Derby twice and is the only living person to have owned and bred the winners of all five English Classics.

However, the biggest impact on modern British racing from foreign royalty has come from the Maktoum family of Dubai. How ironic that Sheikh Mohammed’s personal quest to win the Derby should be realised first by his cousin, to whom he gave the 1995 winner Lammtarra and then by his wife, HRH Princess Haya of Jordan, who owned this year’s winner New Approach.

Princess Haya is a capable horsewoman in her own right who competed as a show-jumper for Jordan at the Sydney Olympics. She has ridden in a flat race, is president of the International Equestrian Federation and a member of the International Olympic Committee. Here is a woman who knows about sporting success: how hard it is to achieve and how much harder it is to maintain.

In the aftermath of the Derby win she proclaimed it the best sporting event in the world and said: “He is an aptly named horse, as my husband is very much a man of new approaches.”

In effect, Sheikh Mohammed not only gave his wife a racehorse, he gave her his ultimate dream: he gave her a Derby winner. She paid tribute to the wonder of sharing the moment with a man she clearly loves and admires.

“The feeling hasn’t gone away. I still wake up every morning and think, ‘gosh we really have won the Derby’. It’s just such a dream come true. That morning when I woke up, I tried not to think about it too much and that’s going to be my plan every time. I have had plenty of experience in horse sports and I know that horses do what horses do.”

As it was, New Approach did what only exceptional horses can do. He was ‘ponied’ down to the start by his companion Metamorphosis, he pulled very hard in the early stages of the race and then he scythed through the field under Kevin Manning, finding gaps on the rail to forge a length clear of Tartan Bearer. It was a thrilling race and in the glow of victory, Princess Haya thought of the men in her life whom she loved most.

“I remembered my father [the late King Hussein of Jordan] and about how much it would mean to Sheikh Mohammed. He is just such an amazingly generous man to have given a gift like that but he loves to give, much more than he loves to receive. He has got such a giving spirit and I think to give a dream is the most amazing thing.

“He was definitely thrilled.” She told me, “It was a gift for when I got pregnant with our baby girl and that made it so special. Sheikh Mohammed is someone who looks for any reason to be happy, even when things are not going well, and he loves racing. This is his joy, his relaxation. It gives him peace of mind, he loves everything about horses, he loves being in this country and he loves being a part of this.”

A bruised foot kept New Approach out of the Irish Derby and it is doubtful whether he will make the King George at Ascot on 26 July but Princess Haya knows she has a serious racehorse on her hands who could yet allow her and her husband a romantic weekend away in Paris for the Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in October.

Picture by Ian Yates

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