x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

$4 billion Meydan racecourse for China

Beijing approves 10-year project to transform farmland into an international horse racing destination and an Olympic training centre.

Developers of Meydan, the Dubai-owned horse racing course, are to invest in a similar multi-billion race track development in China.
Artist's impression.
Developers of Meydan, the Dubai-owned horse racing course, are to invest in a similar multi-billion race track development in China. Artist's impression.

DUBAI // The builders of Meydan Racecourse, which had a spectacular grand opening over the weekend, are to invest in a US$4billion (Dh14.7bn) development in China. Meydan Phoenix City will be a joint venture between International Equine Group (IEG), the investment arm of Meydan Group and TAK Design Consultants, and the Chinese companies Tianjin Farm Group and Zhouji Jiye.

A 10-year plan would transform farmland and space currently used for small-scale equestrian activity in Tianjin municipality's Ninghe County into a 3.3-million-square-foot complex. The project has been approved by the Chinese government, which donated the land, and it bears a striking resemblance in design and infrastructure to Dubai's new racing home. Its aim is to kick-start the redevelopment of racing in China, which faded in the 1950s, and boost the country's profile in Olympic equestrian events.

It was not immediately clear how much money IEG would invest. Mohammad al Khayat, commercial director for Dubai-based Meydan, said talks were under way with financial institutions in both Dubai and China. He added that the project has the support of the Chinese government and suggested that many contractors and suppliers would be willing to work without payment up front. "Contractors want and wish to be involved in such projects to ensure they are partners and want some success, as we do," Mr al Khayat said.

The first five years of the plan focus on building a facility capable of handling national and international equestrian events. China fielded riders for Olympic equestrian events for the first time in more than a decade at the 2008 games in Beijing. The development will include facilities to train 8,000 riders, breed 1,000 top-class studs, produce high-quality horse feed, conduct auctions, hold international and domestic professional races and educate the public both about the animals and the sport.

"Horse racing is a brand-new industry in China," said Teo Ah Khing, the managing director of TAK Design Consultants. "They have little dots all over the country of horse racing and breeding but no structure." Having been assigned to oversee development of Meydan City in Dubai, Meydan Group will bring its knowledge and experience to Meydan Phoenix City. "We have gained a lot of experience here at Meydan," Mr al Khayat said. "It was a fast project. We have successfully managed to face the challenges the global market has faced. I think [Saturday] was a successful evening and I am sure everyone was happy with the success, not just for Dubai, but for the whole world to be a part of something positive.

"Tianjin will be a good experience for us." As with Tianjin, there was little in the way of equestrian infrastructure when Dubai held its first race meet at the Nad al Sheba course in 1992. Back then, quarantine regulations were not up to the standard required to receive international race horses for competition. In little more than a decade, however, the UAE has become home to the largest single-race purse in the sport, the $10m Dubai World Cup, and is attracting the world's finest thoroughbreds.

Everything came together this past weekend when Meydan Racecourse hosted its first Dubai World Cup, a spectacle of fashion, racing and showmanship attended by 63,000. The demographics of China differ from those of Dubai, but the basics of horse racing, such as the need for international quarantine regulations to be understood, implemented and obeyed, remain the same. Between 2011 and 2015 an international equestrian college, horse-breeding base, feed plant and residential and commercial developments are to be built at the Tianjin site. The research, drafting and preparation of equestrian standards will begin in May this year and are to be completed by December 2013.

Between January 2016 and 2020 the focus will shift to merging the track into the international horse industry, IEG said. Mr al Khayat said the Meydan Group's objective was always to "go international" and Tianjin, being "one of the fastest-growing cities in China" and having "very good infrastructure", seemed a good place to start. loatway@thenational.ae