My interest in horse racing goes back to several years now.
In my career as commentator for the sport, I’ve had the opportunity to travel outside Maltese shores on many occasions and visit several horse-racing establishments and facilities.
Recently, I was guest of Emirates Airline and Rocs Travel for a tour of the iconic Meydan Complex in Dubai.
This state-of-the art project was inaugurated last year. It is the brainchild of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, vice-president of the United Arab Emirates, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai.
I have to admit that I’ve never seen anything like the Meydan Complex before.
It includes a grandstand that can accommodate over 60,000 people and an all-weather track. There are other amenities to make visitors more comfortable, most notably a luxury five-star hotel with a high percentage of its rooms overlooking the racetrack.
Restaurants at the complex can accommodate up to 2,000 people. There’s an I-MAX theatre and a car park big enough to hold 8,600 cars. The Meydan Complex also accommodates breeding and training facilities, a museum and the offices of the renowned Dubai Racing Club and the Emirates Racing Authority.
Various popular personalities in the sport roam the complex regularly. Great Italian jockey Frankie Dettori was there and Frank Gabriel, the Dubai Racing Club CEO, is ever-present.
Gabriel hails from the United States. He said the Meydan project was impressive and a feather in the cap of Sheikh Al Maktoum, who not only succeeded in creating an ultimate venue for horse-racing events but his endeavour has also put Dubai at the centre of the global business stage.
“Three years ago the Emirates Racing Authority and the Dubai Racing Club looked at what we could do together to continue developing the sport in this region.
“We had the backing of the Dubai government in all this and Meydan now gives us an opportunity to organise the best races in excellent facilities,” he said.
The Dubai Racing Club is responsible for all activities at the complex and special importance is given to the Dubai World Cup, this year scheduled for Saturday, March 26.
“The Dubai World Cup is the symbol of racing in this country. The race was first held in 1996 and attracts the best horses from around the world.
“This year it will be the 16th edition and so far we already have an entry of over 100 horses from 15 countries,” Gabriel confirmed.
“The programme of races on March 26 will have over $26 million in prize-money.”
However, the Meydan Complex is more than that.
“We have a strong team of media and marketing working all year round,” Gabriel added.
“This is a huge project so we have to coordinate things carefully. Our club employs over 2,000 workers, many of whom directly involved in the maintenance of the track alone.
“In a few months’ time, Meydan will also have a golf course, too.
“We want this modern sports complex to cater for its visitors 365 days a year. This is the main objective that we have in mind at the moment.”
I’ve always read that Dettori is a top professional and particularly meticulous in preparing his mounts between one race and another. At Meydan, I could witness all that by my very own eyes as he talked about the track in Dubai.
“Nad Al Sheba was great but Meydan is a super-monster racetrack. To me, it is a fantastic racecourse. I always come and race at this venue each year,” Dettori said.
“This place has no equals. It seems that the Dubai architects have pinched the best ideas from other racetracks and put them together to create Meydan. The grandstand and its surroundings are fantastic. The facilities for jockeys are great… here you find the best of everything,” Dettori, the leading jockey of the Godolphin Stables, owned by Sheikh Al Maktoum, said.
Dettori etched his name in all major races around the world but considers his success at the Dubai World Cup of 2000 as his best ever.
“On that day, the horse was in good form… we had a perfect race at Nad Al Sheba. Now, I am looking forward to my first Dubai World Cup in Meydan. The race of 2000 was indeed memorable but winning here will be important as well,” Dettori remarked.
Meanwhile, Dettori said he is aware that in Malta horse racing is a very popular sport.
“Malta is very close to my homeland, Italy. Horse-racing is a great sport and I really would like to visit your islands one day, I’ve heard about it before.
“The problem always stems from a tight schedule I have to deal with… it’s hard to find time for a break from racing. Sounds strange, but I can assure you it is not easy,” Dettori said.
Originally published in The Sunday Times on the 27 February 2011