Sheikh's vision leaves the world gasping

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 02 April, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 02 April, 2008, 12:00am

Racing administrators had a collective, cold, creepy feeling of dread on Saturday night when, minutes before the start of the Dubai Sheema Classic, Sheikh Mohammed al-Maktoum went on international television to assure the world of his commitment to the sport.

In particular, Sheikh Mohammed committed that Dubai's day of days would become 'the best in the world' and that total prize money could be 'at least doubled', reflecting their intended best-on-the-planet status.

The prime minister of Dubai and vice-president of the United Arab Emirates also hinted strongly, without being tied down to a precise number, that a lift from its US$6 million stake to US$10 million for the Dubai World Cup (DWC) was possible, if not next year then in 2010.

There were racing leaders from around the globe at the DWC meeting and you could see and feel the pressure, knowing their budgets have already been given a nice stretch while trying, but failing, to keep up with the Dubai express.

Dubai racing accurately mirrors the entire Dubai emirate - a crucible of growth, creativity and vision, with its leader being not only the most eminent visionary in the region but a world leader in this regard. And for jealous rivals to say it's easy with all that oil money denies the reality of what Sheikh Mohammed has built, with oil now accounting for a mere five per cent of GDP.

That first, ground-breaking Dubai World Cup won by Cigar might seem like yesterday, but it's now 13 years ago. And for every year along the way, the World Cup meeting has been able to go up a notch.

In fairness, the event has now outgrown its home, but only has one more year to go at Nad al Sheba racecourse before moving across the road to what promises to be the most superb, luxurious racecourse environment ever - Meydan.

The Meydan racecourse will be an iconic, landmark development spanning 76 million square feet and featuring a state-of-the-art turf track as the major circuit, outside a similar class of dirt track, set off by a grandstand that measures 1.2km long by 10 storeys high, with a seating capacity of 60,000 people.

The Meydan racecourse will include a five-star hotel, more than 10 restaurants, private hospitality suites and boxes, the new home of the Godolphin Gallery, the Dubai Racing Club, a racing museum and covered parking for more than 10,000 vehicles.

A 4km canal which will run from Dubai Creek will offer racegoers a unique opportunity to arrive at the racecourse by boat, and will feature a marina and a boathouse.

Hospitality and dining facilities within the new grandstand will redefine the racing experience and offer luxury, comfort and hospitality second to none.

Nearby will be Meydan city, complete with architect-designed residential towers and business park, all connected to the thoroughbred heart of Meydan.

The fact that the turf track is the main circuit at Meydan is a statement in itself, reflecting the reality that the majority of races run during the Dubai International Carnival are now run on turf.

If anyone doubted the sheer joy that Sheikh Mohammed gets from being with the noble thoroughbred and watching it run, it was evident for the world to see on Saturday night.

While his own horses were thumped in the Dubai World Cup, Sheikh Mohammed sat and watched, enthralled, at the majesty of Curlin, the world's best horse. He revelled in the success of being able to attract the Breeders' Cup Classic hero to Dubai, and the privilege of being able to witness a world-leading-edge performance by a truly great racer.

That his horses did not win was of secondary significance - he is indeed a true sportsman.

Hong Kong Jockey Club hierarchy were guests of the Dubai Racing Club and were undoubtedly impressed by the high standard of the racing, not to mention the superb opening ceremony that would have done justice to an Olympics.

It was, as chief executive Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges likes to put it, a real benchmarking exercise.

Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific International Races in December may still be the benchmark, but when it comes to titles that are not their own, the leaders of Dubai have little respect for big reputations.