The late President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan with Ismail Matar, the star of the UAE’s 2007 Gulf Cup-winning team. (File)

The late President, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, will always be remembered by the sporting world as a towering and inspirational figure who embodied dignity and grace in everything he did.

Sheikh Khalifa was loved across the UAE and his contribution to sports like horse racing and football, in particular, will live on forever. History will remember him as the principal patron of the UAE President’s Cup World Series for Purebred Arabian horses, an event that was aimed at promoting the breed around the globe by his father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan. The Emirates Equestrian Federation launched the President’s Cup World Series for Purebred Arabian Horses in 1994 to promote the breed globally.

The event was established by Sheikh Zayed to promote Arabian horse racing, especially in Europe and North America, and to help establish that they can race competitively on the same stage as the thoroughbred. The series was the first international race for Arabian horses and till today remains the premier event for the breed. Sheikh Khalifa’s passion to promote the Arabian, a horse that is close to the hearts of all Arabs, was deep-rooted and unstinting.

He was the driving force behind the committee that helped secure a place for the Arabian racehorse at major racing festivals around the world including the St. Leger meeting at Doncaster in the UK and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp in Paris. The series, which was held under his patronage, saw the best Arabian racehorses compete in the prestigious President’s Cup World Series.

With his backing, the Arabian horse rose in status and was supported passionately by a new generation of owners and breeders around the world. This led to the phenomenal growth and an increase in awareness of the horse.

The President’s Cup Series shone, thanks to Sheikh Khalifa’s able guidance, as many countries in Europe are now hosting the prestigious races. Only the most elite Arabians would compete for the title of champion.

Sheikh Khalifa dedicated his life to the Arabian by only breeding and racing the majestic racehorse which went a long way to confirm its position on the calendar and raise its status.

Sheikh Khalifa set up the Al Asayl Stable which was dedicated to the Purebred Arabian and his horses won many of the post-sought-after prizes in the UAE and Europe.

Fittingly, he would win the Dubai Kahayla Classic, one of the showpiece races at the Dubai World Cup meeting on three occasions with Seraphin Du Paon (2011), Fryvolous (2009), and Magic De Piboule (2001).

Sheikh Khalifa also emphasised his interest in supporting all sports activities which would inspire the youth of the UAE.

After the UAE beat Iraq 2-1 at Bahrain’s National Stadium in Manama to secure the country’s second Gulf Cup title in six years (after the Ismail Matar-inspired 2007 victory), he hosted the victorious squad at the Presidential Palace and donated Dh50 million to the team.

Sheikh Khalifa was also a champion of the Emirati youth.

His contribution to sport will be greatly missed.

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