There are many people in this city who only mark one date a year in their calendars – the last Saturday of March. For this is the day when Dubaians dig out their gladdest rags and their most magnificent millinery and head over to Meydan Racecourse for the Dubai World Cup – one of the planet’s richest horse races.
Although racing fans’ thoughts will be focused purely on which thoroughbred will ride on to World Cup glory, those who are slightly blinkered when it comes to the nuances of the sport of kings see all their excitement and enthusiasm saved for the after-parties. So what can we expect from the 2017 edition of this prestigious race? Here’s our lowdown, which should help you stay the distance…
1 And they’re off…
The Dubai World Cup was first run back in 1996 at the now defunct Nad Al Sheba Racecourse. With a top prize of Dhs7 million to the winner, it attracted a slew of top horses and jockeys, with racing greats Frankie Dettori and Pat Eddery both having mounts. However, neither of them could stop Jerry Bailey on the legendary Cigar, the dominant force in US racing at the time, seeing off a courageous challenge from the Burt Bacharach-owned Soul of the Matter to triumph by half a length as part of an American one-two-three.
2 Dubai World Cup: A trotted history
Since that inaugural race, the world’s top talent has continued to fly over for a shot at World Cup glory. No horse has ever won the race more than once, although the brilliant Bailey followed up his 1996 win with another the following year and further successes in 2001 and 2002 making him the most decorated jockey in the race’s history. However, it’s arguable the World Cup’s real star over the years has been Saeed Bin Suroor. The Dubai-born maestro, a four-time British Champion trainer, has seven wins under his belt through his work as the head honcho of the Godolphin stable.
3 Godolphin? Isn’t that owned by Dubai’s ruling family?
Right you are. One of the biggest names in horse racing, Godolphin has been sending out winners since 1992, with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, at the helm. In fact, the Dubai World Cup was HH Sheikh Mohammed’s brainchild and although there’s usually a raft of famous faces milling around, he is the ultimate VIP come race night.
4 So shouldn’t race fans be suitably attired when in the presence of royalty?
Absolutely. As with the rest of the world’s most prestigious races, the dress code at Meydan is strictly suited and booted. Expect to see men in their finest threads and women in evening dresses and an array of fabulous headwear creations. Seriously, if you don’t make an effort you’ll feel hugely out of place. There might be plenty of trainers in and around the paddock, but that doesn’t mean you have to bowl up in a pair of adidas.
5 Right, we’ve sent our fineries to the dry cleaners, where should we call a cab to?
Meydan Racecourse, of course. When HH Sheikh Mohammed realised the World Cup was beginning to outgrow the old Nad Al Sheba track, the Dhs5.7 billion newcomer was born. It officially opened in 2010 for that year’s race, and the stunning piece of engineering can accommodate 60,000 racegoers in its mile-long grandstand. It houses the five-star trackside Meydan Hotel and even a testing nine-hole golf course. If you’re a real fan of the fillies, visit the on-site racing museum before taking your place for all of the action. And for the ultimate front-row seat for both the races and the after-party (which we’ll talk about later), Meydan’s super-club WHITE Dubai will be hosting the Bubble Lounge giving racegoers supreme views of all the action. It’s open from noon until midnight on the big day and tables start at Dhs5,000.
6 We planned ahead and snapped up a premium seat but want to get the most out of it. Is there only one race happening?
Certainly not. That would be a bit like charging full-price entry just to watch the Olympic 100-metre final. Along with the main event, there will be a full card of races mostly involving thoroughbreds, but also including a race for purebred Arabians – the Dubai Kahayla Classic. You could say it’s akin to having an entire season of the UAE’s classics in one night, as the line-up will also boast the ultra-competitive Dubai Gold Cup and UAE Derby, the latter of which Dettori has won twice.
7 But what about the main event? Who’s going to win that?
To borrow Jimmy Greaves’ rather hackneyed phrase, racing is a funny old game and it can prove hugely tricky to pick a winner. However, it appears plenty of punters are backing Arrogate (we hope it’s pronounced like the Yorkshire town) for World Cup success this time around. The American grey colt was voted World’s Best Racehorse in 2016, winning both the Travers Stakes and Breeders’ Cup Classic. In January, Mike Smith rode him to victory at the inaugural Pegasus World Cup, which usurped Dubai’s version as the planet’s richest horse race.
8 But what about the after-party?
When the race is run and the winner of the Dhs36.7million top prize has been decided, one of the biggest gigs of the year will take place as Australian hitmaker Sia takes to the Apron Views concert stage. Her 70-minute set will kick off at 9.30pm and is bound to include her biggest tracks, including Cheap Thrills
and Chandelier. There’ll be a huge fireworks display, too, to see out the event in style.
From Dhs450. Sat Mar 25, gates open 2pm. Meydan Racecourse, Nad Al Sheba, www.dubaiworldcup.com.
The world’s second richest horse race
The prize money on offer to the winner of the Dubai World Cup. Last year, jockey Victor Espinoza prevailed on joint favourite California Chrome.
The capacity of Meydan Racecourse. Race night is usually a sell out so don’t dither and make sure you snap up those tickets or you’ll be a total non-runner.
The distance of the race in metres, which is roughly equivalent to ten furlongs in racing speak. As of 2015, it has been run on a dirt track.