x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

Meydan's new world

With turf and Tapeta tracks replacing dirt, the lavish venue on the outskirts of Dubai is poised to bring major changes to the UAE's racing scene.

The parade ring in front of the grandstands at the new Meydan horse racing complex.
The parade ring in front of the grandstands at the new Meydan horse racing complex.

With turf and Tapeta tracks replacing dirt, the lavish venue on the outskirts of Dubai is poised to bring major changes to the UAE's racing scene. Sarah Tregoning reports. A luxury hotel and fine dining restaurants are all part of the Meydan grand tour, but what the horse racing world really wanted to get a look at during yesterday's media preview is just how the Nad Al Sheba dirt track has been transformed into a main 2,400-metre turf course with a 1,750-metre all-weather Tapeta track inside it.

The old venue hosted some truly memorable Dubai World Cup nights as great horses such as Cigar, Dubai Millennium and Invasor all cut up the dirt as they romped to victory in the richest race around. But from the glass-fronted, 1.6km-long, 60,000-capacity grandstand there is nothing left of the old track and it is this difference, according to the Dubai Racing Club CEO Frank Gabriel Jr, that is likely to usher in a new kind of World Cup winner.

And while dirt specialists may now avoid the race, it is expected to attract a wider range of the world's best runners. "Obviously the Dubai World Cup will now be run on a synthetic surface and we are likely to see some changes," Gabriel said. "There are always horses for courses and horses that run on grass and horses that run on dirt. "But there is evidence to show that turf horses can perform on synthetic tracks and we could see some interesting competition between the dirt and turf horses who are going to meet on a level playing field. This is what we have seen in the US in the Breeders' Cup races."

The turf track has been designed with a straight 1,200-metre sprint stretch, opening up the possibility that the Dubai Golden Shaheen, the big sprint contest on World Cup night, could be switched to the grass. If the Golden Shaheen were to be run on the synthetic track, it would mean the horses would start opposite the grandstand on the far side of the track and run a bend into the finish. Gabriel, however, did not rule out the chance of adding an extra race, which could conceivably be a turf sprint in addition to a sprint on the synthetic track, to the World Cup's traditional seven-contest card.

"We are still looking into this," he said. "But we see the fact that we have the straight sprint on the turf track as a great asset to us and we think trainers and owners will find it very attractive. We are thinking about adding an eighth race to the World Cup card and we are considering all the details that our new courses offer us." Trainers will also be pleased with the facilities, which are nearing completion. The receiving barn at the end of the grandstand welcomes the runners. From there a track will take them to the back of the grandstand and a tunnel will lead them up into the paddock where they will parade before racing. Additional tunnels will give access to the synthetic track.

Additional design details have also been added to enhance the spectator experience on World Cup night. The World Cup will now start on the track right in front of the grandstand, allowing the crowd front-row seats to the horses circling and being loaded into the gates before the off. The starting gates will be cleared and the horses will race round the track, before finishing in front of the stands.

Other elements of interest have also been added to the racing schedule, including a Meydan Masters on Super Thursday weekend. This is likely to be an international jockeys' challenge of the type recently hosted in Hong Kong, although the final details of this have not yet been decided. "We have some of the best jockeys in the world here and we hope to have a jockeys' competition to add to our programme," said Meydan's board chairman and CEO, Saeed al Tayer.

Al Tayer added that the Dubai Racing Club had received numerous entries for the Dubai International Racing Carnival, which would be judged and accepted on the basis of quality. Gabriel and al Tayer both said that they hoped to increase the numbers attending for weekly race meeting. "We want to see more people coming racing," said Gabriel. "We have a different product now and we think its appeal is still a broad one. We want to keep the people who came racing every week last season and also attract new spectators to the sport."

Gabriel could not confirm whether entry to the general racing concourse would be free, as had been the case at Nad Al Sheba. stregoning@thenational.ae