The decision to lay down a synthetic track at Meydan to replace Nad al Sheba's dirt was welcomed by most but Doug Watson, a dirt specialist from the United States, will miss the old track. "I was sad to see it go," he said. "I'm from the US where dirt racing is popular and you have some major races on dirt. "Synthetic tracks, like tapeta [an artificial all-weather surface], are turning racing into something more akin to turf racing because as a surface it is different for horses to run on.
"There are problems with dirt tracks but there are also problems with synthetic surfaces and you can have just as many injuries, whatever the surface you race on." In the last few years, many racetracks around the world, especially in the USA, have installed synthetic surfaces to replace dirt after research indicated that they were kinder to horses and did not cause as many breakdowns during racing.
Watson, however, says that synthetic surfaces have their problems too. "There may not have been as many breakdowns, but horses still get injured. And the dirt surface at Nad al Sheba was one of the safest in the world," he said. "There is a skill to training on dirt, but having said that, there are horses that will go better on synthetic." Watson says the new surface may encourage trainers from Europe, where turf racing is king, to come to the Meydan development.
"The way they have set up Meydan is going to appeal to European trainers and I think that was the intention," he said. "From my point of view it is always a good thing to have different trainers and new horses coming over here for the big races to test your own runners."