The Aga Khan Dynasty – Horses Owners and Philanthropists

Every so often, the editor of Horse View UK you might say, goes slightly off piste and this article is one of those occasions, but we hope the readers will find some interest in one of the world’s greatest equestrian supporters, His Highness Prince Karim Aga Khan IV. Known to everyone as a prolific racehorse owner and breeder, there is a lot more to the man and his dynasty which is not so well known.

His Highness Prince Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan

The Aga Khan was born in 1936 and succeeded his grandfather Mohammad Sultan Aga Khan III in 1957 aged only 20. He descends from a long line of rulers, some even regard him a ‘divine’ as he, like his fore fathers is the leader of some 15 million Islamic followers, mainly based in India and The Middle East. However, he is unique as the only world ruler, whether royal or otherwise who has no kingdom over which to rule.

It is sometimes difficult to judge whether The Aga Khan and his fore fathers were Gods, politicians, diplomats, business tycoons, philanthropists or simply just racehorse owners. The truth is all of them. The present Aga Khan  is the forty ninth hereditary leader of the Shia Ismaili Muslims. He comes from a long line of diplomats, both the previous two Aga Khans held seats on the League of Nations, (now the United Nations). He has a huge business empire and he has always tried to help the world’s poor and under privileged, as well as owning horses.

The first Aga Khan was greatly favoured by the British in 1841, when he was forced to flee his native Indian province and ended up in Afghanistan. It was at this time that he helped the British with his small army who fled with him during the first Afghan war. For this he was given the title of ‘Prince’. In his later years, Aga Khan I went back to Bombay where he set up a magnificent stables for Arab horses and ran the Bombay Racecourse.

The Second Aga Khan

In 1881, the second Aga Khan II succeeded his father. He concerned himself with the disparity of rule for Muslims, particularly between the Sharia law and the Hindu law. He was an educated man who became an authority on Persian and Arabic literature and philosophy. He kept up the excellent relationship with the British and was also on The Bombay Legislative Council. He was an avid sportsman, and inherited his father’s stables and Arab horses in Bombay which he continued to nurture. His time at the top was short-lived however as he died in 1885.  He was succeeded by his son, Aga Khan III who took over at the tender age of just seven. He grew into a very political person and was heavily involved with the talks over India’s independence, always trying to accommodate all the various factions. He travelled a lot between London and Bombay in his quest and was given various honours by Queen Victoria and Her decedents included being appointed to the British Privy Council in 1934 by King George V. He was also appointed at the head of The League of Nations in 1937.He was possibly the first ever truly international politician.

Aga Khan III

He too was a keen sportsman, particularly in the realms of horse racing. He owned a record winning number of Epsom Derby winners and had a total of sixteen British classic winners. He was the top owner in Britain thirteen times. He was not only a race horse enthusiast as he was also heavily involved in the then fledgling sport of show jumping. In 1926, he presented a cup to The Dublin Horse Society, The Aga Khan Cup, given for the top international showjumping team. This is a trophy which is still competed for each year at The Dublin Horse Show in early August as part of the Irish leg of the Nations Cup. Aga Khan III was a shrewd man, who like his forefathers, had it within his gift to appoint his successor. He chose the present Aga Khan, which was most unusual as the role normally passed from father to son but he chose his grandson, as he felt that the times needed a younger man to fulfil the role – thus a twenty year old took over the mantel the present His Highness Prince Shah Karim al-Husayni Aga Khan – to give him his full title.

In the modern era, while still being head of the Ismaili Muslims, the current Aga Khan has become non-political. He has a huge business empire however which he uses more often than not to finance good works around the world in an attempt to bring together communities. He lives and runs his business and race horse empires from France, where he also has various studs. It is thought that he has a net worth of $13billion. He is definitely a philanthropist. He has championed the elimination of poverty, particularly in Africa as those countries have been granted their independence from colonial rule. He has also been very active in trying to secure pluralism in religious beliefs and has been a great promoter of the advancement of women.

The present Aga Khan – another keen sportman and who took oart in the Winter Olympic Games

He is a graduate from Harvard University, the first of his family to attend such an institution.  Like his forefathers, he too was a keen sportsman, representing Iran in the Winter Olympic Games as a skier in 1964. He is well travelled and has set up seats of learning all over the world. He is the founder of The Aga Khan Development Network which currently employs over 80,00 people and focuses on economic and rural development in third world countries and which in 2010, he gave $625 million for the network’s expansion. He owns a large estate in France at Aiglemont a few miles from Paris and several studs in Normandy. He also owns, The Gilltown Stud in Ireland where several top stallions have stood over the years including the present top incumbent Sea The Stars. Gilltown sadly was where the great Shergar was standing when he was stolen for ransom in 1982. In 1977 and 1978, he purchased the complete race horse collection of mares, foals, yearlings and horses in training from the retiring Anna Dupre and Marcel Boussac, the two top French racehorse owners of the time, for £6 million.

Zarkava – winner of The Arc de Triomphe for The Aga Khan

In 2006, The Aga Khan joined the board of the Deauville Thoroughbred Sales company and soon became the majority shareholder. Since then he re-invented the sales company which at the time was on its knees, to bring it up to one of the major bloodstock sales companies in the world. He re-named the sales company to Arqana. He has enjoyed considerable success on the race course with the likes of Zarkava who was unbeaten on the track and won The Prix de L’Arc de Triomphe in  2008. He has also won both the English and Irish Derbys with Hazzard in 2016, as well as countless group and classic races in France and elsewhere in the world. He has an amazing and deeply bred band of brood mares from which he breeds all his race course successes.

Who wouldn’t want a yacht like this. Alamshar after one of his great horses

At 83 years of age, The Aga Khan is still very active in all the various facets of his life. As a keen yachtsman, he keeps fit on his yacht Alamshar which he named after one of his favourite horses who won The Irish Derby and The King George and Queen Elizabeth Stakes before going on to be a successful stallion. The yacht is reported to have cost him $200 million and if you have the money, it is apparently available for charter!!!!!

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