Mohamed Khalid Abdulrahim smiles as he reflects on the two big passions in his life: horses and cars, with speed the common theme.
“Horses have a mind of their own, which can be frustrating and they often get injured, while cars do what you tell them to do. But I couldn’t live without either,” says the scion of one of Bahrain’s largest industrial conglomerates, the KAR Group, which specialises in construction.
It was started 30 years go by his father, who is still chairman, and was catapulted into the big time after building the Formula One Grand Prix tracks in Bahrain and Abu Dhabi, in 2004 and 2009 respectively.
At the age of 35, Abdulrahim has a stable of more than 70 of the world’s most valuable and rare cars in his private collection, including McLarens and Porsches, which have been bought largely as an investment. Currently their value is estimated at more than $125 million.
In contrast, the racing operation is much smaller, with only 15 horses in training in Bahrain and a handful more in England and Ireland. Among them is Sprewell, trained by Jessica Harrington, who came fifth in the Irish Derby at the Curragh this year. The family also owns the Friarstown Stud near by in Kildare.
“At the beginning it was like homework, I learnt a lot very quickly,” Abdulrahim says. “Now I am hooked and look forward to the big races. I would love to get a winner for my father with his own homebred. That is the ambition. At the end of the day, anyone can buy a horse at the sales. Once you breed your own horses, it is on a different level.”
While cars will always give him a thrill, and he has the perk of driving whichever one he wants to depending on his mood, the bigger excitement will be in developing the MKAR Racing operation with the ambition of winning a Group 1 race in the near future, and perhaps one day the Epsom Derby. He hopes to have 40 horses in training next year.
“For me, the Derby at Epsom is the ultimate ambition. Once a horse wins that race, then you know how good he is. That is the biggest race for me. It is not about the prize money. It is about the breeding potential.
”But it very hard to get into that circle. Every one of my competitors has the resources. But it is a hard game, especially when you’re going up against operations like Coolmore and Godolphin.“
Horseracing is a sport he first became involved in as a boy, collecting some of the many trophies his father won with his own horses.
“Building my own operation began in earnest about four years ago and I have learnt from the best, my father, for whom I have the utmost respect and who has been my guide and mentor in every aspect of my life,” Abdulrahim says.
This week, the global racing spotlight was very much on Bahrain and the latest running of the increasingly prestigious International Trophy. The race is now listed as a Group 2 event and carries prize money of $1 million. The purse attracted the best field in its history, with 10 overseas challengers including several Group 1 winners from Ireland and England in the 14-strong line up.
Abdulrahim came very close to having a runner with his horse Goman but he just missed the cut-off point for qualification and was the first reserve. Had a horse dropped out with injury, he would have been in the field. It was a case of so near and yet so far.
But that has not reduced his appetite. Nor that of what he sees is a younger group of people from the Middle East and Gulf region entering the sport.
“The growth of racing in the Middle East is huge. It is becoming a powerhouse. A lot of the younger generation is getting into the sport. When His Highness Sheikh Isa bin Salman took charge (of racing), he changed a lot of things. Not least in bringing international racing to Bahrain, which was what we were lacking. He is young like us and sees things differently, which is great.
“Races like the International Trophy carry great prestige, a lot of prize money and a high-quality field. This year was almost at Group 1 level, which we will get to in time. It was amazing seeing all these big-name horses, trainer and jockeys coming to Bahrain.
”There are several other big owners who are young. It is a friendly rivalry locally, but once we are abroad we are like a team and cheer each other on because we want the Bahraini horse to win. It is a source of great pride for us.”
While racing is growing, it is Formula One that has really helped to put Bahrain on the map. Cebalco, the construction arm of the KAR Group, completed that ground-breaking project under budget and on time. Abu Dhabi was so impressed, Cebalco was invited to build the Yas Marina project and track. It was the making of the group.
Pride of Abdulrahim’s car collection is probably a McLaren F1 car now worth $25 million on its own. While driving that was always out of the question, he has been able to pick and choose the cars he drives for fun. And twice a year, he takes over the Grand Prix circuit and spends the day at the wheel of some of the world’s best supercars.
“I love driving the track with its wide roads and long straights. I have crashed a lot of cars in my life. But I learnt from my mistakes. I choose to drive what I like. It is quite addictive. When you start it is quite hard to stop.
“You can rely on cars, and they rise in value. When we started in 2008, people asked why we were spending all this money on cars. Now they know. It is one of the best investments we could have made.
“I have loved cars since I was a boy. When my father put his foot down and said we should invest in cars, I was in dreamland. I know a lot and he trusts me in picking cars.”
Is it like buying a horse? “Actually it is different because very often you get chosen to buy a particular car by the manufacturer. Basically, there are more people in the world who want these cars than there are cars to buy. They are like gold.”