Thursday, December 18, 2003 :
THE Aga Khan has been a great lover of Irish racing all through his life. He showed that love is no uncertain fashion with his amazing multimillion euro gift to Irish racing this month.
He bought a hotel at the back of the present Curragh stands for an estimated 15 to 20 million euro and presented the whole area occupied by that hotel to the Irish Turf Club, the owners of the Curragh racecourse. This purchase enables Horse Racing Ireland to make the Curragh one of the real gems of the sport in the world.
I have no doubt but it will be a magnificent development and the two right people are at the helm of Irish racing to see to that - Kerryman Denis Brosnan, is the chairman and Brian Kavanagh is the chief executive of HRI. Now is an opportune time to have a look at the Aga Khan's background.
Prince Karim is the fourth holder of the title Aga Khan which was bestowed by the British government. He succeed his grandfather as the 49th Iman in 1957. He is a direct descendant of the profit Mohammed through his daughter, Fatima, and has a following of approximately 15 to 20 millions. He is the spiritual head of the Isliamic sect – the Ismailis scattered over Asia and Africa.
The Aga's grandfather presented the Aga Khan trophy which is competed for annually at the Horse Show held at the RDS. Various countries compete for this trophy which is the highlight of the Dublin show. If a country wins the trophy on three consecutive years, it is theirs to keep. This has happened and the valuable trophy was immediately replaced by the president Aga Khan. The Aga Khan's father was prince Aly Khan, his mother was one of the Guinness family so he has a strong Irish connection.
In my early racing days the Aly Khan was one of those larger than life followers of the sport - he was an amateur rider in his day and rode over a hundred winners. When war broke out in 1939 the Aly Khan was keen to serve and got every encouragement from his father. He joined the French Foreign Legion and was sent to the Middle East to serve as a cavalry officer under General Weygand. He joined the British forces in Jerusalem and rose to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. He was decorated with the Croix de Guerre and the bronze star medal
The Aly Khan was passed over by his father in favour of the Aly's son, Prince Karim. The Aly Klan's love of the high life and his romantic association with Rita Hayworth was too much for the old man and so the present Aga Khan got the nod from his grandfather to succeed him. Prince Aly Khan died tragically in a car accident in Paris on May 12, 1960.
The Aga Khan, after initially dithering whether he'd continue his father and grandfather's interest in racing, decided to give it a go and he has done so with great success both at the racing and breeding end.
He had a double victory in both the English and Irish Derbies on four occasions with Shergar (1981), Shahrastani (1986), Kahyasi (1988) and Sinndar (2000). No other owner - or trainer or jockey for that matter - bought off that unique four timer.
The Aga Khan's present trainer in Ireland is John Oxx - a master hand for getting the best out of his charges. As well as being the Aga Khan's trainer a very close friendship has developed between the two.
The Aga Khan sponsors one of the main two year old races run at the Curragh. He is a very approachable man and easy to converse with. His love of Irish racing has been cemented by his wonderful gift and here's hoping he will increase his tally of four dual English and Irish derby winners in the years ahead.
Thursday, January 22, 2004 :
KILLARNEY man Finbarr Slattery was somewhat puzzled when a letter popped through his letterbox brandishing a postmark from Gouvieux in France.
So imagine his surprise when he discovered that the correspondence was penned by none other than his Highness, the Aga Khan – one of the world’s most powerful and wealthiest men.
Long-serving Kingdom columnist Finbarr had written an extensive comment about the Aga Khan’s generosity to Irish horse racing but he didn’t anticipate a reply when he forwarded a copy of The Kingdom to the royal palace.
“It was very good of him to respond,” said Finbarr who has met the Aga Khan personally at a number of Irish race meetings. “His ¤20 million donation to the Curragh race course was a very generous act and I felt it was worthy of inclusion in my column,” he said.
“The letter is something I’ll keep and, in years to come, it will be nice for my children and grandchildren to have it,” said Finbarr.
In the hand-written note, the Aga Khan thanked Finbarr for “the generous article in The Kingdom” and told of his affection for the Irish horse racing industry.
And the Imam of the Shia Imami Ismaili Muslims concluded his note by wishing Finbarr and his family happiness and good health for the new year.
“I hope we will meet often, if I am fortunate enough to have some good horses with John Oxx” the Aga Khan wrote.