Dubai gallops to pole position in the big league of horse racing destinations

Dubai gallops to pole position in the big league of horse racing destinations

DUBAI, 23rd March, 2023 (WAM) -- When the starting gates for the first race at the Dubai World Cup open on Saturday, the thunder of hooves on the track will send a wave of excitement not only across the half-a-mile-long grandstand at the Meydan Racecourse but also among millions of racing enthusiasts worldwide tuning in to the broadcast of the planet’s most spectacular race day.

The 27th Dubai World Cup, to be held on Saturday, 25th March, is an unmatched drawcard for talent in the sport, bringing together 129 horses from 13 countries. A total of 78 international and 51 Emirati horses including those from the fabled Godolphin stable, will be contesting for a prizemoney of US$30.5 million.

For the worldwide equestrian community, the Dubai World Cup represents the pinnacle of excellence not just in racing but also in many streams of the thoroughbred industry. Playing out on the tracks is not only a match-up of equine athleticism but also scientific expertise and specialised equine know-how, areas in which Dubai has emerged as a global frontrunner. Over the last two decades, Dubai has created a vibrant equestrian ecosystem that produces both champion horses and hotbeds of industry innovation.

Sheikh Rashed bin Dalmook Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Dubai Racing Club, said, “Dubai’s emergence as one of the world’s great horse racing destinations has been shaped by the far-reaching vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai, who sought to embed the highest standards in every aspect of the sport. His Highness, who himself was a successful endurance rider, led many initiatives that have had a lasting transformative influence on global horse racing. The global equestrian industry acknowledges that his contributions have surpassed that of any other single individual in the history of the sport. The long-term roadmap for horse racing conceived by His Highness led to the creation of the world’s largest and most global racing team, Godolphin, and the largest horse breeding operation, Darley.”

Dubai’s emergence as a horse racing hub is entrenched in age-old equine traditions in the region. More than 300 years ago, the cross-breeding of three Arabian stallions, The Darley Arabian, The Godolphin Arabian and The Byerley Turk, gave rise to the foundation lines of modern thoroughbreds. Today, the majority of thoroughbreds can be traced to these three Arabian sires. Sheikh Mohammed's own passion for horses grew into a major bloodstock operation that became Godolphin, the global thoroughbred breeding operation and horseracing team that now spans four continents.

Thoroughbred racing began its ambitious global expansion in 1996 in the emirate when the first Dubai World Cup was held. The presence of some of the world’s best horses including Cigar, the all-conquering American champion, who won the inaugural event, announced the tournament’s emergence as a major global fixture. Later, the emirate started the Dubai World Cup Carnival in 2004, a nine-week series of races.

Since its inception, the Dubai World Cup has produced some of the sport’s fiercest contests and most memorable feats. In 2000, Godolphin’s Dubai Millennium won one of the tournament’s most cherished triumphs while in 2008 another American star Curlin won by one of the biggest margins of victory in the Cup’s history. Three years later, in 2011, Victoire Pisa and Transcend gave Japan a first win and a 1 – 2 finish in the coveted race. In 2012, Godolphin returned to the victory podium with Monterosso placed first and Capponi second. In 2017, world champion Arrogate wowed the world with an impossible last-to-first victory while in 2018 and 2019, Thunder Snow won top honours becoming the only horse to win the Dubai World Cup twice. In 2021, Mystic Guide recorded a 13th win for UAE connections, 11 of which were for Team Godolphin.

“Dubai’s infrastructure for horse racing events, combined with its world-class hospitality and tourism offerings, make it an exceptional venue for a global tournament of the scale of the Dubai World Cup,” says Sheikh Rashed bin Dalmook. The nucleus of Dubai’s burgeoning equestrian industry cluster is the Meydan Racecourse, the globe’s largest integrated racing facility. The Racecourse features a 1,750 m dirt surface and a 2,400 m turf course, making it the world’s longest horseracing track. Further, with the world's first five-star trackside hotel and largest grandstand spanning half a mile, the Meydan Racecourse provides one of the most spectacular settings for global horse racing tournaments,” he added.

Apart from infrastructure, Dubai’s pleasant winter climate raises its appeal for the global horse racing fraternity. When most other major horse racing destinations are unable to host tournaments due to harsh winter weather, the city is a hub for all stakeholders who seek year-round involvement in the sport. Further, Dubai’s vast array of world-leading hospitality, tourism, lifestyle and entertainment offerings make it a popular destination for horse racing fans and industry professionals.

In recent years, Dubai has marked itself out as a major player in helping the equestrian industry bounce back from the impact of global challenges. At a time when the horseracing world was brought to a standstill by COVID-19, Dubai’s efficiency in rolling out its vaccination programme enabled the 2021 Dubai World Cup to be held in a protected environment. In 2022, the meeting was back to full strength, with vast crowds enjoying the action at the Meydan Racecourse.

The massive increase in prize money for the 2021-2022 racing season reinforced Dubai’s status as an international horse racing hub. Further, several new initiatives by the largest local industry stakeholders, estimated to be worth USUS$400 million (AED1.47billion), are giving a strong impetus to the global industry. One of these, the Dubai Equestrian Forum, launched in 2021, a joint initiative between the Dubai Equestrian Club and the Dubai Racing Club, brings together stakeholders from all over the world to the Meydan Racecourse to explore how they can shape a new future for the industry.

The Meydan Racecourse, in partnership with leading auction house Goffs, hosted the second Dubai Breeze-Up Sale this year on 21 March, a global auction of young horses sourced from farms worldwide that included some of the most established sires in racing. A confluence of leading owners and buyers from all over the world, the auction was another example of Dubai’s growth as a hub for thoroughbred sales.

Earlier in March, the city hosted the Dubai International Horse Fair (DIHF), one of the global equestrian industry’s major annual gatherings. Featuring 60 exhibitors from 35 countries, the event saw a diverse range of equine suppliers, owners, breeders, stables and clubs converging on Dubai, reinforcing its status as an international focal point for the equestrian industry.

Dubai is also playing a pivotal part in advancing global expertise in horse breeding and training. Godolphin trainers lead a horseracing and breeding operation that involves around 1,000 horses worldwide, all of whom have access to five-star facilities that include private grass and all-weather gallops, swimming pools and equine spas.

The emirate is also a leading player in equine healthcare, with many high-end hospitals and clinics that include the Dubai Equine Hospital, established in 1995. These facilities offer a full spectrum of innovative veterinary treatments and services, from routine care to advanced stem-cell therapies.

Dubai’s success in equestrian sports and its emergence as the world’s pre-eminent horse racing destination mirror its rise as a major city on the world stage. Inspired by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, horse racing has served as a metaphor for the city’s quest for global leadership. This year’s Dubai World Cup will be another celebration not only of equestrian accomplishment but also the emirate’s spirit of excellence.