Galloping Towards Glory


The annual event has put the UAE on the world map for horse racing

By Leslie Wilson Jr

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Published: Sat 26 Mar 2022, 12:00 AM

The history of horse racing in Dubai can be traced to 1981 when races were first held at the Camel Track in the old Metropolitan Hotel area.

The first three races that ever took place were a sprint, a mile race, and a contest over a mile and a half.

Fast–forward to 1992 and His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice- President and Prime Minister of the UAE and the Ruler of Dubai, issued a decree to form the Dubai Racing Club, to help develop the sport in the city. A year later, in March 1993, the Dubai Racing Club hosted the inaugural Dubai International Jockeys’ Challenge (DIJC) where five groups of two jockeys each were invited to compete, with senior riders.

Dubai World Cup Trophy. — Photo by Neeraj Murali
Dubai World Cup Trophy. — Photo by Neeraj Murali

Later that year, Nad Al Sheba Racecourse was built and opened with a lot of fanfare. The picturesque racecourse which came completed with a grandstand and club horse, attracted some of the best jockeys in the world at the time, including the likes of Sir Lester Piggott and Willie Carson. The middle of the racecourse also featured a nine-hole floodlit golf course.

With racing now being under proper rules it would pave the way for the launch of the Dubai World Cup in 1996. The race was created with lofty ambitions by Sheikh Mohammed who envisioned it to become the thoroughbred championships of the world. The prize money on offer was a staggering $4 million, the highest amount ever paid out in the history of the sport. Since then more than $100 million have been awarded to the 25 winners. The Dubai World Cup helped put the UAE on the international sporting map drawing the attention of millions of equine enthusiasts around the globe.

Today, the race meeting, which traditionally takes place on the last Saturday in March and features nine glittering races, is worth $30.5 million and features nine races, consisting of eight Thoroughbred contests and one Purebred Arabian contest.

Spectators at Meydan Racecourse during Dubai World Cup 2019. — Photo by M. Sajjad
Spectators at Meydan Racecourse during Dubai World Cup 2019. — Photo by M. Sajjad

The 1996 Dubai World Cup was won by Cigar, a champion American thoroughbred racehorse, who defeated fellow American raider Soul of the Matter following an epic battle down the straight. More than 60,000 fans were in attendance to watch history being made.

Since that epic year, the race has been won by some of the sport’s greatest horses including Dubai Millennium, Curlin, Animal Kingdom, California Chrome and Arrogate.

Racing was held at Nad Al Sheba till 209 before it was moved to Meydan Racecourse, a spectacular venue that can host over 60,000 spectators.

Meydan has set the highest standards for luxury and has helped project the UAE’s horseracing scene to a larger international level. Today, the state-of-the-art facility provides first-class hospitality unlike any other in the world while on-course facilities include receiving barns, stables, turf and All-Weather training tracks, and jockey and horsemen’s lounges.

Meydan also stakes a claim to having the world’s first trackside five-star hotel that includes 285 suites offering direct, unobstructed views of the racing action.

In addition to staging the Dubai World Cup sponsored by Emirates since 1996, Meydan Racecourse also offers a full domestic and international season of racing, running from October to April each year,

The season begins with a full calendar of Racing at Meydan meetings for domestic trainers and horses before it builds up to the international Dubai World Cup Carnival which runs from early January to Dubai World Cup day.

The Dubai World Cup Carnival is an eight-race extravaganza boasting high-class international races which are contested by some of the most famous owners, trainers, horses, and jockeys in the world.

The Carnival culminates in Super Saturday, in the first week of March, an event that acts as a dress rehearsal for the Dubai World Cup. It is considered a major race meeting.

Spectators are welcome at Meydan and can gain free access to the venue where they can view the races from a variety of places.

Exciting free competitions are run at every ace meet where the general public can indulge in a game of picking the winners, with prizes being awarded to those who get their selections right.

This year, Meydan introduced the popular ‘Faces at the Races’ initiative where lucky racegoers who have continued to the overall ambiance of the race meeting is rewarded with a prize.

So whichever way you look at it, there is something for everyone who comes racing at Meydan. Twelve months ago, Goldphin’s American-based Mysti Guide won the 25th anniversary running of the Dubai World Cup.

Today, a new champion will be crowned.

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