x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Pomp will match the pageantry on Dubai World Cup night at Meydan

On Thursday at Meydan, trainers and jockeys smiled and posed for photographs as they enjoyed breakfast with race fans from around the world. It was merely the calm before the storm.

The calm before the glittering storm. Meydan Racecourse is a tranquil place during training sessions in the morning. Come Dubai World Cup night the facility will be ablaze with flashing cameras, stadium lights and fireworks when the world's richest night in horse racing commences.
The calm before the glittering storm. Meydan Racecourse is a tranquil place during training sessions in the morning. Come Dubai World Cup night the facility will be ablaze with flashing cameras, stadium lights and fireworks when the world's richest night in horse racing commences.

The 60,000 Grandstand seats glittered in the sunshine. The hospitality rooms were stocked. And the Apron Views terraces were being prepped for horse racing's biggest day. The track itself looked in immaculate condition. Welcome to Meydan, says a giant billboard greeting visitors.

Saturday afternoon, tens of thousands of fans race fans will descend on the home of the Dubai World Cup for the fourth time since its move from Nad Al Sheba.

Thursday at the Meydan Grandstand, the buzz of activity behind the scenes resembled last-minute preparations for a royal wedding. But for several hundred lucky fans, the doors opened early for an opportunity to have "breakfast with the stars"; and sure enough they came from all around the world.

From the United States, Japan and India, among other places, not to mention from across the emirates.

It was an opportunity to get up close to the owners, trainers and jockeys, who happily posed for photos and signed autographs for those who had paid Dh295 for the privilege. But the relaxed atmosphere on the alfresco terrace was simply a case of calm before the storm.

In the shadow of the imposing grandstand, it is hard to overplay the enormity of the occasion.

Even seasoned professionals struggled to sum up the magnitude of Dubai World Cup night.

Hall of Fame American jockey Gary Stevens, on his first visit to Meydan, called the setting "spectacular", and one he could not have envisioned the first time he raced in Dubai in 1993.

"I arrived last night and it was dark, but the lights were on and I got an idea of what the lie of the land is, and it's just spectacular," said Stevens, who recently came out of retirement after a seven-year absence from racing. "I've seen the transition of not only horse racing in Dubai, but the transformation of a country."

While many in horse racing will always have a soft spot for Nad Al Sheba, Meydan is now one of the finest racetracks in the world, and a fitting venue for the world's richest racing festival.

"The old track is nicer than most tracks we have in America," said Dale Romans, trainer of Little Mike, who runs in the Dubai Duty Free, and Dullahan, running in the Dubai World Cup. "But you come to this place and you can't describe it to people.

"It's phenomenal."

It will be Stevens who will ride both of Romans's horses, another indication that the Americans, who have three horses in the Dubai World Cup, are increasingly investing time and effort to make the trek to the UAE, as the Europeans have been doing for years.

The facilities and conditions, not to mention the timing of the race, make it convenient for the trainers to arrive here in plenty of time. Dullahan, who struggled at Super Sunday earlier this month, is now primed and ready for an assault of racing's biggest prize, according to Romans. It helps that he enjoys running on synthetic tracks like Meydan's 2,000-metre racecourse.

"I don't believe we'll be favourites, but this is a horse that's coming the right way and loves synthetic race tracks, and is really settled here," Romans said.

"I'm glad I brought him over early. I think the extra time has settled him."

With a start time of 10.05pm, the Dubai World Cup will be run later than in previous years. And if the field of 13 horses performs to expectations there will be as many sparks on the course as there will be fireworks at the end of the race.

The first race of the day, the Dubai Kahayla Classic, may be starting at 4.30pm, but competition of a different nature altogether will be taken place elsewhere.

Fashion judges Jaguar Style Stakes will give away a 2013 Jaguar XK Coupe, and there is a gold ladies' watch studded with 30 diamonds for the winner of the Longines Most Elegant Lady award. At least one expensive, oversized hat will prove worth the effort.

Still, at a total prize money of US$27.25 million (Dh100m), the most valuable assets of all will be on that track in the form of the magnificent horses and those who ride them.

"To be here and participate on the world's biggest stage for the Dubai World Cup, I didn't know if that was going to be possible," said Stevens with a smile.

"I was a [television] presenter here four years ago, the last time the race was at Nad Al Sheba, and really Dubai is a home away from home for me, so to come back and be able to participate here at 50 years old, it's truly amazing."

Welcome to Meydan.

 

akhaled@thenational.ae

twitter Follow us @SprtNationalUAE