x Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 20 January 2018

Meydan thronged for Dubai World Cup

Fierce competition on the track - and pretty tough off it, too.

Leny Layburn (left) and Tri Angela relax between races at the Dubai World Cup at Meydan in Dubai. (Sarah Dea/The National)
Leny Layburn (left) and Tri Angela relax between races at the Dubai World Cup at Meydan in Dubai. (Sarah Dea/The National)

DUBAI // It was about the horses, of course. But also it was about the hats.

On the track at Meydan Racecourse, jockeys and their mounts were competing in nine races with a total purse of Dh1 billion, culminating in the US$10 million (Dh37m) Dubai World Cup itself - the world's richest horse race.

By the trackside, in the stands and all around the course, many of the thousands of spectators were competing in the Jaguar Style Stakes, with categories including the most creative hat, best dressed couple and best dressed lady.

This, after all, is the biggest, most anticipated and most glamorous annual social and sporting event in the Dubai calendar. It attracts Emiratis, expatriates and visitors to the country, and the atmosphere was electrifying.

Dressed in colourful outfits, women sported hats and fascinators of all sizes and shapes, decorated with everything from feathers to lace and netting.

Alyza Mae Mamoul, 14, had painstakingly picked out her beige off-shoulder dress and a matching off-white fascinator.

"It was so hard to find a fascinator to go with my dress," said Alyza, a pupil at the Philippines School and a visitor to the races for the first time. "I am here to be with friends and of course watch the races."

Gail Gillham, 62, said she was a seasoned visitor to the Dubai World Cup.

"I live here and love it. In Australia, we go to watch the Melbourne Cup. The concept and the whole spectacle is amazing."

Mrs Gillham wore a multicoloured fascinator made by Karen Hamilton, the Dubai milliner who specialises in headwear for ladies, to match the colours of her dress.

"I just texted her the colours of my dress and she made this."

However, not everybody was dressed to impress.

Sporting a pair of jeans and shirt, Girish Menon, 32, who is visiting from India, said it was a "misconception" that there was a dress code at races.

"It's important to feel confident in whatever you are wearing," he said. "I regularly go to the races but this is my first time in Dubai. I wasn't about to miss the most happening event of the year."

Many said they knew little about horseracing but had come to be a part of the excitement.

"I have come for the atmosphere," said Salma Sameh, who was at the event for the second consecutive year. "I know nothing about racing. This is a nice routine-breaker event."

Hats were not confined to the women.

Panos Karakasidis, an expatriate of Greek origin, showed off his flat cap at the Apron Views, one of the seating areas.

"It's my first time at the races. I love horses and get to wear my new hat."

The Argentine football legend and former Al Wasl coach Diego Maradona made a cameo appearance at the trackside.

Despite all the preparations, the event was not without traffic problems.

Long queues of taxis and cars built up at the Sheikh Zayed Road and Al Khail road exits leading to the Meydan Racecourse as police and organisers tried to control traffic flow.

Cabs were asked to drop off passengers away from the racecourse, where school buses - which had doubled as shuttle buses - ferried passengers to the venue.

"Taxis who came to drop passengers before the event started were stuck for a long time," said Ibrahim, a cab driver. "Police had also blocked some routes, which caused some jams."