Sheikh dons the silks to raise money for charity
AN Irish-based sheikh and a businessman famed for an audacious betting coup are just a few of the people hoping to raise tens of thousands of euro for charity at this year's Cheltenham Festival.
Yet Louth-resident Sheikh Samir Mirdad (45) – who only learned of the famous Prestbury Park meet late last year – hopes to come home with more than a few battered betting slips in his pocket.
The sheikh, an adviser to senior royal family members in the Gulf and an accomplished show jumper, has swapped his jacket for silks to ride the Willie Mullins trained Ballylongford in the Cancer Research fundraising St Patrick's Derby on Thursday.
The 45-year-old revealed his determined streak as after training in Dubai he then travelled to Mullins's Carlow yard to get some tips from jockey Ruby Walsh. He aims to raise €50,000.
He'll be fundraising in memory of his grandmother, Aasha, who died of breast cancer. The sheikh also told how his wife Lynda Pollock Mirdad is recovering from breast cancer.
"I'm not going to take a picture; I'm a competitive person, it's in my nature and in everything I do. I'm going to try and give it a go," he quipped.
He's hoping that the Mullins team – expected to dominate many of the races this week – will also shine in the charity race.
But he can expect some organised competition from the charity-fundraising riders including businessman Douglas Taylor, who pulled off a gamble planned with military precision in 2012 which netted around €200,000. The Co Cavan businessman's firm sent around 200 agency workers with alarmed watches, a precise note and betting slips to put money on 'D Four Dave', the horse he joint-owned.
Sheikh Mirdad revealed that after the more sedate pace of show jumping he was at first terrified at hurtling along at breakneck speeds.
"They got the fear out of me of speed; when those horses are going fast it is scary," he said.
"I'm more confident now."
He admitted: "I didn't even know what Cheltenham was. I was a bit embarrassed when I met Ruby Walsh – one of the best jockeys in the world."