Dubai Racing

Dubai sets an EXAMPLE of a FORWARD LOOKING Muslim country – Without its own oil ONLY way was to become a country like Singapore and Korea or Hong Kong. Where INTERNATIONAL INVESTORS can put their cash without fear !!

Bets and bubbly aside, it’s big-money racing

Date     May 12, 2013        

Two western women among Emirati men at Dubai races.Two western women among Emirati men at Dubai races. Photo: Getty  Images.

In the sport of kings, Dubai is a long way from Flemington and Royal  Randwick, writes Rob McFarland.

I feel like I’m watching the opening scene from a movie. Projected across one  of the world’s longest video screens – a 108-metre monster that looms over the  track at Meydan Racecourse – is the image of Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin  Rashid al Maktoum. He’s strolling nonchalantly towards the winners’ enclosure,  surrounded by friends and family, all immaculately dressed in traditional  Arabian kanduras.

This is no public relations stunt. The sheikh is a horse-racing fanatic who  regularly makes an appearance at Meydan to watch one of his vast stable of  thoroughbreds. His Godolphin stable, which he started with his brothers in 1992,  is one of the largest in the world and has generated more than 200 Group One  (elite-grade) winners.

Horses parading at Meydan Racecourse, Dubai.Horses parading at Meydan Racecourse, Dubai. Photo: Photo: Rob  McFarland.

Godolphin is named after the Godolphin Arabian – one of three horses brought  from the Arabian Peninsula to Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries to be bred  for racing. The other two are the Darley Arabian and the Byerley Turk, and all  modern-day thoroughbreds can trace their pedigrees to one of these three  horses.


For the next hour or so, the sheikh roams around the winners’ enclosure,  watching each race intently, checking his phone and chatting with trainers. He  greets each of Godolphin’s jockeys as they arrive, including the ebullient  Frankie Dettori, who performs his trademark star jump dismount to the delight of  the crowd.

While seeing the sheikh is an unexpected highlight, there are many other  reasons to include a visit to Meydan on your Dubai itinerary. For a start,  general admission is free. And although gambling is not allowed, you can still  win cash prizes by predicting winners on the free Pick 6 game card. Above all,  there’s the sheer spectacle of the place. From the outside, Meydan looks more  like a futuristic concert venue than a racecourse.

At 1.6 kilometres long, its grandstand is the largest in world horse racing  with 15,000 tiered seats and a capacity of 60,000. It looks particularly  impressive at night, when its striking solar and titanium roof is bathed in a  plume of red and purple lights. In addition to two racing tracks – a 1750-metre  all-weather course and a 2400-metre turf one – the complex contains the world’s  first trackside five-star hotel, where 95 per cent of the rooms have a view of  the action.

There’s also an elevated private access road that leads to the royal  enclosure and is for the exclusive use of the sheikh and his guests.

All this glitz and glamour is trademark Dubai, but what is refreshing is that  the venue draws people from all walks of life. While the corporate boxes and  fine-dining restaurants are filled with wealthy Emiratis and expats, trackside  you’ll find construction workers from the enormous immigrant workforce that has  been instrumental in Dubai’s startling transformation over the past 15  years.

What you won’t find is the alcohol-fuelled exuberance of the Randwick spring  carnival. Because the complex contains a hotel, all the bars and restaurants  serve alcohol, but people come to Meydan for the excitement of watching the  races – not to get legless.

Dubai’s racing season begins in November but things don’t really hot up until  the Dubai World Cup Carnival, an 11-week extravaganza that starts in January and  culminates with the world’s richest race, the Dubai World Cup. The prizemoney  for this one race, held on the last Saturday in March, is a cool $US10  million.

Godolphin has won six times, most recently in 2012 with Monterosso, but this  year it was won by an American horse, Animal Kingdom. The Kentucky Derby winner  held off a blistering late challenge from Melbourne Cup runner-up Red Cadeaux to  win by two lengths.

Although the horse is American-bred and trained, he was until recently 75 per  cent owned by John Messara, of Arrowfield Stud in NSW. As Messara was presented  with the trophy by Sheikh Mohammed, Advance Australia Fair played in the  background. The sheikh must have been suitably impressed because, four days  later, he bought a 29 per cent stake in the stallion.

The horse everyone would love to have seen in Dubai is Black Caviar. She was  due to appear in 2012, but her owners withdrew her a month before her scheduled  arrival to rest her before she headed to Royal Ascot. The undefeated mare was  retired in April to start her breeding career so there’s still hope that one of  her offspring may one day be bought by Godolphin and race at Meydan. Now that  would make a great movie.

Rob McFarland travelled as a guest of Dubai Tourism.


Trip notes

Getting there

Emirates flies three times a day from Sydney to Dubai with return economy  airfares from $1900. 1300 303 777,

Visiting there

General admission is free and includes grandstand seating and trackside  access. Admission for the Dubai World Cup meet is 25 dirham ($6.60). Premium  packages including VIP seating, food and drink are also available.

Staying there

During the racing season, rates at the 284-room five-star Meydan Hotel start  from $US250 ($243) a night.

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