A Place Like Never Before
By Andre Gonzaga
The word Meydan describes a meeting place where people come to discuss,
compete and achieve. An environment that encourages competition and co-operation
to live side by side in harmony. A habitat created to promote endeavour,
excellence and fair play in sport, commerce and life. Meydan, a place like never
Nad Al Sheba has been good for the sport. Right now, it is just getting
better. And in another three years' time, Nad al Sheba will be a top-class
facility - arguably the best according to officials - for horse racing in the
world. And all this, due to the far-sighted vision of His Highness Shaikh
Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and
Ruler of Dubai, who wants to put Dubai firmly on the international map using
sport as a vehicle.
A day before the prestigious Dubai World Cup, Shaikh Mohammad stunned everyone
when he unveiled 'Meydan' - simply meaning 'a new challenge' - to the world. The
announcement of the ambitious project could not have come at a better time. The
focus of the entire world was on Dubai leading up to the Dubai World Cup weekend
as Discreet Cat sought to challenge Invasor to see who would be crowned as the
best horse in the world.
And if the race itself has promoted Dubai, Meydan will definitely do a great
deal more to ensure Dubai gets its due share of horse racing glory.
Shaikh Mohammad dreams big and this project is a testament to this. The mere
size and vastness of the project matches Shaikh Mohammad's vision. The project
was unveiled in a presentation by Shaikh Mohammad in the presence of Shaikh
Ahmad Bin Saeed Al Maktoum, President of Dubai Civil Aviation and Chairman of
Emirates Group, a day before the 2007 Dubai World Cup. The project will house a
maximum of up to 80,000 race-going fans and will include a parking facility for
up to 10,000 cars. The state-of-the-art horse racing city will include luxury
hotels and a sky bubble restaurant, entertainment clubs, a concourse plaza,
iconic towers and a boat-house. A world-class hotel, over 10 restaurants a
relocated Godolphin gallery, the Dubai Racing Club, a museum and a
four-kilometer canal which will run from the Dubai Creek to the racecourse.
Spread over a total area of 76 million square feet, the Meydan horse city will
also include dirt and a turf racetrack, new stables and training tracks and
receiving barns. The main feature of the new facility will be a world-class
grandstand, spanning a kilometer and located just a stone's throw away from the
present one at the Nad Al Sheba Club.
The finer details of the new facility were announced on World Cup day by Saeed
Al Tayer, Chairman of the Dubai Racing Club just minutes before the start of
racing on Super Saturday in Dubai. "We wanted to develop a world class facility
and I cannot think of any other race course in the world that will rival it," Al
Tayer said at the formal announcement. Al Tayer further stated that Shaikh
Mohammad gave the green light for the project during last year's Dubai World
"This is going to be home to the business community, owners, trainers and
riders. You name it - it will encompass everything," Al Tayer said.
The creation of Meydan is bound to have an impact with other sports facilities
in the emirate. The most immediate one could be the relocation of the Dubai
Country Club – one of the oldest golf sand courses in the region and the Dubai
Exiles Rugby Club – home to the annual round of the IRB Dubai Rugby 7s. “Such
things are bound to happen,” Al Tayer stated at the announcement of the project.
“We have to keep the larger picture before us. We wanted to develop a
world-class facility and I cannot think of any other racecourse in the world
that will rival it. I believe Meydan is not just for Dubai, but it’s for the
whole world,” Al Tayer stated.
Meanwhile, racing at Nad Al Sheba will continue uninterrupted and the Dubai
World Cup is expected to move into its new home in 2010 with the current prize
money of $6 million being hiked to nearly $10 million by then.
A day before Invasor and Discreet Cat went head to head for the top prize in the
$6million Dubai World Cup, Shaikh Mohammad chose to present Meydan to the world,
reaffirming the dominance of Dubai around the world.
Falcon Park at Sunset
"As we are setting the benchmark in terms of world-class facilities, we want to
complement that with increased prize money of $10 million to entice the best
horses in the world for the opening of Meydan for the 2010 Dubai World Cup," Al
The design and master plan for the new facility is by renowned architects TAK,
which over the past decade has won several awards and commendations while
pioneering new developments in Malaysia, China, Vietnam, Singapore, Indonesia,
Pakistan and Dubai.
The company's Managing Director Teo A. Khing was only too excited about this
project. "The design as you approach the track is of a falcon, which is a
defining symbol of the local heritage and denotes decisiveness and speed. The
racing facilities will be outstanding, but it's not just for the season. We want
to maximize entertainment all year around. It can stage conferences, concerts,
functions, and carry on through the off-season," stated Khing.
This concept of racing will take the sport to a completely different level. Race
meetings over the weekends will no longer be the same. Horse owners and trainers
from other parts of the world have already been looking at Dubai very keenly.
The South Africans have been at it for the past four years or so with trainer
Mike de Kock leading a group.
The South Americans have suddenly started finding a lot of appeal racing in
Dubai. The Japanese too have not been too much of an exception and they fielded
as many as eight runners in various races held on Dubai World Cup night. Of late
Indian horses too have seen Dubai as a market where they can race and start
Crescent Roof Close Up
Perhaps, Khing summed it up all so well. “Meydan is an Arabic word that means
where people congregate and race, so it is a combination of definitions, but at
the end of the day, it is about where people go and race and achieve results. I
believe Meydan is not just for Dubai, but it's for the whole world," he said.
And, Dubai Racing Club CEO Frank Gabriel Jr., said: "We have taken into account
feedback from all aspects of the industry - race goers, trainers, jockeys, our
partners, sponsors, other racecourses - everyone - in making this racecourse the
magnificent development it will be."
The racetrack surfaces are designed by the Joseph H King Company, which has been
involved in the design and construction of the dirt tracks at most major racing
facilities in North America since the 1980s.
World Cup thrill
Though there was so much attention focused on Meydan, there were thrills aplenty
as Kiaran McLaughlin-trained Invasor ridden by Fernando Jara turned on the heat
and won the world’s richest horse race at the Dubai World Cup. Much was expected
of his immediate challenger Discreet Cat, but the Godolphin runner turned out at
the back of the pack, and it was Premium Tap who gave off his best till the very
end to hold on to a gallant second place.
Till then, the Dubai World Cup had been billed as a two-horse showdown between
Invasor and Discreet Cat – the former lived up to the challenge, while the
latter did not know what went wrong.
It was the John Kimmel-trained Premium Tap, who was a long-time loading at the
gate, who set the pace with Saudi challenger Forty Licks and the Hong Kong
challenger Bullish Luck racing in third. Invasor, Vermilion and Kandidate raced
in mid division, with Frankie Dettori apparently content to settle Discreet Cat
in the rear.
However, on the turn for home Fernando Jara could be seen to be improving his
position on Invasor and locked horns with Premium Tap for a duel that he finally
won in the final hundred yards of a pulsating race, and Discreet Cat was no
where in sight. Bullish Luck, trained by Hong Kong’s Tony Cruz, hung on well for
third, delighting both his trainer and his jockey Brett Prebble with his game
performance in his first ever race on dirt.
But the world’s richest race was all about Invasor – owned by Shaikh Hamdan Bin
Rashid Al Maktoum - and for trainer Kiaran McLaughlin, who was winning the race
he most wanted to win for his owner.
“Shaikh Mohammad hired me in 1993, but it was Shaikh Hamdan who adopted me. He’s
been like family to me,” said McLaughlin, who is a four-time champion trainer in
the UAE during his 10-year stint.
In the end it was about horse, trainer and jockey and the ability of the three
to manage conditions on the night of the race…it was the better horse that won.