Jenny - Clean

THOROUGHBRED racing took a massive leap into the future last night (Wednesday - January 28) when the Dubai Racing Club unveiled the new showpiece of the Sport of Kings – the $2 billion Meydan complex.

Meydan – a combination of state-of-the-art racing facilities and world class hotel accommodation and hospitality - provides a horse racing experience unlike any other in the world.

It combines futuristic racing technology and incomparable state-of-the-art facilities designed to meet the needs of every industry participant, foremost the racegoers with over 300,000 expected to visit the complex in the next three months.

Continuing the 14-year horse racing legacy in Dubai, laid down by Nad Al Sheba, the new Meydan Grandstand and Racecourse sets new standards for luxury and has propelled the United Arab Emirates to even greater heights on the global thoroughbred arena.

The most outstanding feature of the new Meydan Racecourse is the grandstand, an architectural feat featuring a crescent-shaped roof clad with solar panels. It spans one and a half  kilometres and can accommodate up to 60,000 guests.

The racing complex also includes the world’s first trackside five-star hotel, The Meydan, with most all of its 230 suites having direct, unobstructed views of the turf and all weather tracks. It also comprises high-end international restaurants, an IMAX theatre, the Meydan Museum and Gallery, Meydan Marina and the Falcon Commercial Park free zone offices.

The Racecourse comes with a 1,750m All-Weather track and a 2,400m turf track. Other facilities include receiving barns, stables, turf and All-Weather training tracks and jockey and horsemen’s lounges.

The major difference to what punters have come to expect in Australian, Asian and European tracks is that there are no bookmakers or tote facilities. Gambling is not permitted in the United Arab Emirates – although you can bet on racing there with overseas betting agencies.

There is also no chance that you will have to cope with drunken morons – as has become increasingly the case at major meetings in Australia. Binge drinking at the races is impossible in Dubai because there are bars throughout the track.

Race-goers who want to enjoy one of the 10 world class restaurants at Medan can order alcohol while they dine. This is a place where you go to the races to watch the thoroughbred perform.

It might be ‘different’ for those of us who have grown up loving racing because of the gambling aspect but in the UAE it is an accepted ritual – and there is also a chance of winning a car every night if you can pick seven of the eight winners on the card.

The first meeting at the new complex proved a huge success last night (Wednesday, January 28). It heralded the start of the Dubai International Racing Carnival which will culminate with the Dubai World Cup on March 27 with thousands of visitors already booked from all parts of the world.

DWC 2010 is especially symbolic not only because of its 15th anniversary, but celebrating the milestone at the iconic Grandstand promises to ensure it is one of the most dynamic and memorable horse racing experiences ever. Prize-money for the DWC has been raised to US$10 million.

Following the ambitious construction of the new Meydan Grandstand, this amazing new venue now not only caters to the racing world but can also be transformed into an entertainment venue for presentations, launches and music concerts.

The new complex has to be seen to be believed. The futuristic grandstand, spanning 1.6km along the picturesque straight, is big enough to park over 20 jumbo jets side-be-side.

A four kilometre canal linking the course and the Dubai creek has been built so that Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai and the driving force behind racing in the region, can dodge the traffic and travel to the course in his luxury cruiser.

Completion of the magnificent complex, the envy of the racing world, did not come without its share of heartache and financial pain, so well recorded by the international publication Construction Week, which sent a writer to Dubai to report on the massive project:

‘Among all that doom and gloom, it’s easy to forget the magnificent feats that Dubai has actually achieved. Even in the next few months, the Burj Dubai – the world’s tallest building by quite some distance – will throw open its doors, as will the rest of the stations on the Metro’s Red Line.

Flying somewhat under the radar so far, however, has been the Meydan City project that will ensure top class horse racing heads to Dubai in 2010 and for many years to come.

“Meydan is the Arabic word for ‘meeting place’. Meydan is going to be the newest and most important integrated business and lifestyle destination for the UAE and for the world,” explains Meydan commercial director Mohammed Abdul Nasser Al Khayat.

Construction Week visited Dubai largely to see the central feature of Meydan City, the brand new grandstand and racetrack facilities.

“The grandstand is the longest and largest ‘landscraper’ in the world with a span of 1.6km or the length of 22 Boeing 747 planes,” explains Khayat.

It’s also extremely impressive given that ground was only broken on the project in June 2007 and its progress was anything but smooth.

A year ago, Meydan cancelled the US $1.25 billion contract it had with a joint venture between the Malaysian contractor WCT and Arabtec, for the construction and completion of the main building works, external works and infrastructure works of the racecourse project.

“In any construction project there are always differences between what you want to achieve and what is actually happening on the ground,” a WCT spokesman said. “Changes to the design and to the work that is to be done are always happening in every project.”

Chinese State Construction Engineering Corporation and Mammut Building Systems stepped in to take over principle construction and, fortunately, any disruption has not translated into the quality of the project itself.

Meydan’s head of projects, Douglas Small reveals that between 2,600 and 5,000 construction workers were on-site at any time during the building process; meanwhile, at the height of construction, there were eighteen cranes also onsite.

Measuring almost 1.6km across and boasting a built area of 306,580m2, the grandstand has seating for 20,000 spectators, although its total actual capacity lies closer to 60,000. Meydan officials expect to see around 300,000 race fans hit the grandstand during the 2010 season.

The grandstand consists of several sections and lying at one end of the complex and taking up a third of it is the five-star ‘The Meydan’ hotel. The rooms are all fully integrated and a majority overlook the course itself.

At the other extreme of the ‘landscraper’ is a marina which, through the construction of a canal network, joins up to Dubai Creek, providing boat owners with a convenient place to stop during race days.

Designed by Malaysian outfit TAK – the master planner behind the Palm Deira – which has also served as the project management firm for the first phase of Meydan City, the grandstand’s most impressive point, however, is at its centre where the seating, restaurants, bars and VIP/corporate suites are topped by a cantilevered crescent roof that runs 426m in length and spans 56m across.

“On the upper side of the roof, there are 4,840 solar panels generating a 750Kw output,” explains marketing and communications manager William Oburu. “The solar panel surface area measures 5852m2 and the underside is made from titanium. It took 9000 tonnes of steel, in total, to create.”

The crescent roof was topped off in April 2009, less than two years after ground was broken on the grandstand. Sitting snuggly under the crescent roof is the grandstand’s piece de resistance – the rooftop bubble lounge or ‘the sky bubble’ as Meydan is calling it, which was a late addition to the original design concept.

With the capacity to hold more than 4,500 people, the glass pod has 360 degree views back over Sheikh Zayed Road as well as, of course, the racecourse.

It also offers great views over Meydan’s other ingenious and, in many cases, unique features, such as the world’s largest LED screen which runs almost 110m along the track in front of the grandstand and has a screen area of 1213m2.

You can also glimpse the elaborate network of tunnels – totaling more than two kilometers in length – that guide horses, trainers and jockeys quickly around the facilities. Then there is the IMAX theatre that seats 585 viewers.

“The grandstand development has a value of around AED 4.6 billion [US $1.25bn],” claims Meydan chairman Saeed Al-Tayer. “But the net value including the Falcon Car Park, training facilities and infrastructure will be about AED 10bn [$2.7bn]. It’s a very detailed project.”

The Falcon Car Park structure holds bays for 8,622 cars and is so named because “…the design as you approach the track is of a falcon and is the most challenging architectural feat to date, especially considering the whole project was completed within 24 months,” explains TAK managing director Teo A Khing.

While Meydan may be a good news story at a time when Dubai really needs one, the Meydan chairman insists that it will be far from the last of the emirate’s successes.

“Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum and the Dubai Government granted us the land for this landmark building and its associated projects and they have therefore been extremely helpful and supportive throughout,” continued Al-Tayer.

“The economy is difficult for the world, not only Dubai. It’s a challenge for everyone else too. We’re dealing with it and delivering the grandstand and racetracks are the first part of meeting this challenge.”

Meydan will boast two new racetracks, a 2400m turf track and a 1750m all-weather track – replacing the previous dirt track – as well as high quality turf and all-weather training tracks.

The turf track consists of Bermuda grass (over-sown with rye) on top of two layers of sweet soil root zone, a red sand tapered drainage layer and a bed on natural subgrade soil.

The all-weather track is based on a dedicated system called Tapeta. “The Tapeta surface has proven to be a safe and reliable, and has shown outstanding durability in this climate, says Dubai Racing Club’s Frank Gabriel Jr.

“It provides drainage and great cushioning for horses, aiding their longevity. The top layer is made from a mix of fibre, rubber, sand and wax.”

International jockey Frankie Dettori, could not have been higher in his praise of the new complex after riding in trials there. “I'm gobsmacked. I just can't find the words to describe it,” he said.

Meydan's feature race day will be the $10 million Dubai World Cup on March 27. Its race program comprises:

January 28 – Dubai International Racing Carnival (First meet)
February 4 & 5 - Dubai International Racing Carnival
February 11 - Dubai International Racing Carnival
February 18 & 19 - Dubai International Racing Carnival
February 25 - Dubai International Racing Carnival
March 4 & 5 - Dubai International Racing Carnival (Super Thursday and Meydan Masters)
March 27 – Dubai World Cup and official launch of Meydan grandstand and racecourse

The big racing tour companies in Australia – headed by Taylor Made Travel in Melbourne and Ambassador Travel in Brisbane – have packages to the Dubai World Cup which are filling quickly.




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