In the mid-eighties the great Arab sheikhs invaded Kentucky. They came to the sales, bringing with them crusty old British bloodstock advisers, great determination, and untold millions of dollars with which to do damage. They were loaded for bear. The three Maktoum brothers from the United Arab Emirates, along with Saudi Arabia's Prince Khalid Abdullah and Mahmoud Fustok, and other lesser lights with monikers too complicated and similar to attempt, came to buy the cream of each year's crop. Thankfully, that trend has continued to accelerate.
The major sales companies, every consignor, indeed any human being with aspirations of making money in the horse industry, wanted a piece of "the Arabs."
I decided it would be great fun if Dogwood manufactured its very own Arab.
In a very whimsical spoof, designed to do nothing but entertain ourselves—and, hopefully, a lot of other people in the horse world—we created "Sheikh Bin Had" (Bin Had, get it?).
The role of the Sheikh was played by a midget—in real life an undersized bellman employed by the Hilton Hotel in Atlanta. We hired this gentleman (he stood all of four feet), fitted him in loose-flowing Arabic garb, with burnoose, and set up a photo session at Dogwood Farm, at the time our 433-acre training farm near Columbus, Ga.
We arranged a stretch limousine and the Sheikh motored to the farm, in costume, of course.
Dogwood farm manager Ron Stevens and I were there to greet Bin Had, and the cameras started clicking. We brought horses out on our racetrack for training; Bin Had inspected them, and we looked others over in the paddock. After several hours we had photographically captured everything a visiting potentate might logically do on a Thoroughbred horse farm. We then fashioned a news story for our Dogwood quarterly newsletter. The gist of it was that Sheikh Bin Had had come to America to buy shares in horses from Dogwood.
The front page bannered this headline: Arab Potentate goes wild on Christmas Shopping Spree! DOGWOOD HORSE INVENTORY DEPLETED!"
The body copy read: "Dogwood Farm, one of the few commercial Thoroughbred operations in America without a tie to Arabic petro dollars, has now catapulted to the top of the heap following an epic equine Christmas shopping spree by Sheikh Bin Had.
"Sheikh Bin Had, known as 'The Desert Mouse,' visited Dogwood in his never-ending quest to acquire unique gifts to please his 27 wives. Lest any of his wives take exception should one horse do better than another, 27 horses were packaged into a limited partnership of 27 shares—one for each wife..."
The spoof was goofy enough to capture your attention and straight enough to make you wonder...briefly. However, an astonishing number of pretty sophisticated people gobbled it up. We got calls from all over: "Is the Sheikh on the level?"
One local social-climbing type beseeched us to let her have a cocktail party for him the next time he came to town. We were having so much fun with it that we decided to perpetuate it, milk it for all it was worth.
Different sheikh-like scenarios were played out for three or four years, with Bin Had making more money from "modeling" than from hustling tips at the Hilton.
When Dogwood Stable hit the one-million-dollar mark for the first year, in 1983, we threw a big dance at the Piedmont Driving Club in Atlanta. An honored guest, of course, was the Sheikh.
When my daughter Lila got married, her reception was held there, and, unbeknownst to her, my wife, Anne, and I invited Sheikh Bin Had (in costume). When he entered the ballroom, just as the featured couple was having the traditional wedding dance, it was like Moses parting the Red Sea. The guests did not know how to handle the Sheikh.
I ushered him up to the dancing couple, and he cut in, briefly. The bride was delighted - about the dance, and the brevity of it.
We got our money's worth out of Sheikh Bin Had.
Inspecting horses with the "Sheikh"
The "Sheikh" greets Kentucky Gov. Brereton C. Jones