x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Meydan Raceourse set to go organic

Tapeta surface to make way for dirt. But Dubai Racing Club says change will not deter European raiders from racing in the Emirates, writes Geoffrey Riddle.

The 20th anniversary of the Dubai World Cup will be held on a dirt track at Meydan Racecourse next year. Warren Little / Getty Images
The 20th anniversary of the Dubai World Cup will be held on a dirt track at Meydan Racecourse next year. Warren Little / Getty Images

The Dubai Racing Club does not envisage a marked drop in the number of European runners coming to Dubai following the decision by Meydan Racecourse to replace the Tapeta racing surface with a dirt surface for the 2014/15 season.

Meydan was opened in 2010 to much fanfare following the transfer from Nad Al Sheba, which staged races primarily on dirt including the inaugural Dubai World Cup in 1996.

Pictures of earth movers piling up the Tapeta surface at the UAE’s flagship course circulated on social media sites throughout Tuesday and Meydan moved to confirm the four-year-old surface was being pulled up yesterday.

Saeed Al Tayer, the chairman and chief executive of the Meydan Group, issued a statement that the board of directors had chosen to revert to dirt in Dubai for next season.

“This is a decision that will be best for the future of Meydan racing and the Dubai World Cup Carnival,” he said. “In the coming year we will celebrate the 20th running of the Dubai World Cup and the track will be the natural surface that proved so successful during the first 14 years of this magnificent race day.”

It means the great experiment with synthetics in the UAE appears to be over, with Al Ain, the UAE’s newest racecourse, the subject of strong rumours that it will be joining Sharjah and Jebel Ali to hold races on dirt.

There were 33 thoroughbred races staged on Tapeta at Meydan during the last World Cup Carnival out of a total of 61 in the lead-up to World Cup night.

Outside of UAE runners and those from South Africa, trained mostly by Mike de Kock, Britain and Ireland provided the bulk of the foreign raiders to those races, a trend that is likely to continue according to Martin Talty.

“I would imagine there are many people surprised by this decision but they shouldn’t denigrate this until the proof is in the pudding,” the Dubai Racing Club’s international department manager said. “It remains to be seen whether European involvement will dry up. We offer generous subsidies and have good prize money. Will this decision result in a mass European exodus? No.

“You have got to let these things take time to bed in and then when people see not much has changed they’ll come back and join the party.”

The move to dirt comes on the back of Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid’s criticism of the Tapeta surface in the lead-up to the Dubai World Cup, in which Mukhadram finished second in his famous blue and white silks.

Mukhadram was the Dubai Crown Prince’s first runner in the World Cup since the world’s most valuable race was run at Meydan.

Although Shiekh Hamdan conceded that the Tapeta surface was adequate in the first season, he believed that it subsequently became inconsistent.

“It’s slow in the morning and fast in the evening,” he said. “Not all horses give their best on the surface where the ground conditions change every few metres.”

“New horses to the surface shorten their strides and don’t stretch naturally.”

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