Kentucky Derby favorite overshadowed by sheikh's controversy

Kentucky Derby favorite overshadowed by sheikh's controversy

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Essential Quality will enter Churchill Downs on Saturday night as the favorite to win the Kentucky Derby, but there is a cloud of mystery and intrigue over the horse’s owner.

Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates and the ruler of Dubai, has faced accusations of kidnapping and holding his daughter – Princess Latifa Al Maktoum – hostage. She pleaded for help in a series of videos from her “prison” in February, the Free Latifah support group said.

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Jockey Luis Saez rides Essential Quality to win the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile horse race at Keeneland Race Course in Lexington, Kentucky, on Nov. 6, 2020. Essential Quality is expected to be the first gray horse favored to win the Kentucky Derby in 25 years. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy, File)

Meanwhile, Sheikh Mohammed is hunting for the elusive Derby victory. His Godolphin Racing team is well-known in Kentucky racing circles.

Churchill Downs spokesman Darren Rogers didn’t believe the protest would gain any legs.

“Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid currently holds a valid racing license in the state of Kentucky. There have been no horse racing violations and nor are we aware of any other U.S. regulatory or governmental investigations,” Rogers said. “We are focused on the three-year-old thoroughbreds who have earned their way into this year’s Kentucky Derby and our responsibility is to the integrity of the race and the safety of those horses.”

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Essential Quality is the favorite to win the Kentucky Derby and there has been talk of the horse winning the Triple Crown as well. The colt is undefeated in five races in four tracks. The horse will be shooting out of the gate from post 14.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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