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Officials Won’t Ban Derby Horse Owner Over Kidnapping Allegations

World Economic Forum/Wikimedia Commons

The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission again chose not to take action against Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the ruler of Dubai, who is accused of kidnapping his daughter and holding her against her will.

The sheikh owns Essential Quality, a favorite for this year’s Kentucky Derby. A group of lawyers and students filed a formal complaint against him on Wednesday. It’s the second time they’ve attempted to curtail Sheikh Mohammed’s involvement since the alleged kidnapping in 2018.

In 2019, the commission cited a lack of evidence for not banning the sheikh. This time, however, the complaint cited a 2020 fact-finding judgment by a British court that found he kidnapped his daughter Latifa as she was trying to flee the emirate and seek asylum in the United States.

Marc Guilfoil, the commission’s executive director, said the decision to permit the sheikh’s continued participation was based on Kentucky regulations.

“The Kentucky Horse Racing Commission (KHRC) received a complaint against licensee Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum on April 28, 2021. In consultation with counsel, and according to Kentucky regulations, the KHRC has determined the complaint does not articulate a violation of KHRC regulations,” he said in a statement.

University of Louisville law professor Sam Marcosson, who also filed the 2019 complaint, described the decision as “pretty indefensible.” He said the commission would not ignore such allegations against a Kentuckian. In the past, the commission has previously banned people over accusations of domestic violence, sexual assault and fraud, he said.

“So the idea that they are now taking the position that anything he did is not a violation tells us that … because of his status and power, the commission regards him as above the law,” he said. “And that's unacceptable.”

Marcosson said he and his partners will continue seeking consequences for Sheikh Mohammed even after Saturday’s race. He said some opportunities for recourse include urging Gov. Andy Beshear, who oversees the commission, to take action, or asking the U.S. Department of State to pressure the ruler.

“We certainly have not given up on getting the commission, at some point — maybe not this year, certainly not before the Derby, but at some point — to realize that it's the position it has taken is really an abdication of its authority,” he said.

Amina Elahi is LPM's City Editor. Email Amina at aelahi@lpm.org.