Sheikh Mohammed shares his vision for the future of racing in Dubai.

Sheikh Mohammed shares his vision for the future of racing in Dubai.

Trevor Jones

Meydan Details Released; World Cup Purse to Reach 'Approximately $10 Million'

Officials with the Dubai Racing Club on Saturday officially outlined the plans for the new multi-billion dollar Meydan Racecourse that will replace Nad al Sheba racecourse, which presented its Dubai World Cup card for the 12th time Saturday.

Along with that announcement, Saeed H. Al Tayer, Dubai Racing Club chairman, said the purse of the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I) would increase from its present $6 million to approximately $10 million in 2010, the projected year for Meydan to be completed.

“We have done a lot of research,” Tayer said, noting that racetracks from throughout the world were examined as part of the planning process. “We wanted to develop a world class facility and I cannot think of any other racecourse in the world that will rival it.”

Tayer said construction of the new facility, which was first unveiled publicly March 30 by Sheikh Mohammed during an elaborate and entertaining presentation, would begin following this year’s World Cup. The new 67-million-square-foot facility will be located within close proximity to the present grandstand. Tayer declined to put a price tag on the project.

Included in the development will be 10 restaurants, relocation of the Godolphin Gallery, the home of the Dubai Racing Club and a museum, parking capacity for 10,000 vehicles and a canal that will run from the Dubai Creek to the racecourse.

The facility is being designed by TAK and the Joseph H. King Company will be responsible for the development of the grass and major racing surfaces.

Tayer declined to say whether the main track surface would be sand, dirt, or an artificial surface. Racing would continue uninterrupted during the construction period.

Contrary to published reports estimating Meydan would have seats for 80,000, Tayer said correct figure was more in the range of 55,000-60,000. The track estimated up to 50,000 would attend Saturday’s World Cup, with seating for about 8,000.

Tayer said the new track had been in the planning stages for 12 months and that Sheikh Mohammed gave final approval about eight weeks ago.

In the course of planning the new track, many “experts”, including trainers, were consulted, said Dubai Turf Club CEO Frank Gabriel Jr. “We have taken into account feedback from all aspects of the industry - racegoers, trainers, jockeys, our partners, sponsors, other racecourses – everyone – in making this racecourse the magnificent development it will be,” Gabriel said.

According to Tayer, the name comes from an Arabic word that when translated means a location where people congregate to compete.

“Meydan is a 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 achieve results.”

Tayer would not rule out the possibility Dubai Racing Club would make a bid to host the Oylmpic games, taking advantage of the multi-purpose design of Meydan. Tayer and Frank Gabriel Jr., chief executive officer of the Dubai Racing Club, would not comment on whether the track would one day like to host the Breeders’ Cup World Championships.

“The Breeders’ Cup has been looking to grow,” Gabriel noted, adding, “right now we just want to get through the World Cup.

Friday’s unveiling, attended by members of the royal family, media, and horsemen and track executives from throughout the world, was an entertaining affair, replete with ceremonial dancers, fireworks, and related accruements.  A video preface into the unveiling showed horses racing while the Olympic fanfare theme John Williams composed for the Olympics played in the background, leading to speculation that Dubai may make a bid to host the Olympics.

The video presentation credited many officials and departments within the United Arab Emirates for bringing the concept forward, noting that the major credit goes to Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, the vice president, prime minister, and ruler of Dubai.

Despite the lack of details at Friday’s event and only a look at a model of the facility, many U.S. owners and breeders said they were impressed with what they saw.

“Sheikh Mohammed has a vision that is going to change the Middle East,” said horse owner and breeder Peter Bance. “I think you will see other Middle Eastern countries follow suit.”

“It raises the bar on any sports facility in the world,” said U.S. trainer John Kimmel.

“It is a pretty amazing plan and you have to admire their imagination,” said equine veterinarian Dr. Dean Richardson, who was in Dubai for the first time at the invitation of the Dubai Racing Club. Along with a veterinarian from the United Kingdom, Richardson was expected to offer advice and expertise as the Saturday World Cup races took place.

Based on his observation of how quickly Dubai is being developed, Richardson said there is no reason to think that Sheikh Mohammed’s Meydan will not succeed.