Dubai: Ever wondered what the future of horse racing would look like? That question was answered in emphatic style on Tuesday when representatives of the media were taken on a breath-taking tour of the iconic Meydan racecourse and hospitality facilities.

The flagship new racecourse will stage its first meeting in six weeks' time with the opening of the Dubai International Racing Carnival, but you could almost feel a buzz of excitement building as hundreds of workers were briskly putting the finishing touches to the magnificent Meydan Grandstand, which has the capacity to accommodate over 60,000 spirited racegoers.

It was a crisp, winter morning with the sun shimmering on the racecourse district which is spread over 67 million square feet and was the perfect start to an all-encompassing excursion of Dubai's newest sporting and business venture.

Media thanked

"We are thankful for the support and interest that the members of the media have shown us since the inception of Meydan and are therefore delighted to give them a first-ever glimpse of the magnificent facilities that will set the stage for the most exciting racing season leading up to the 15th Dubai World Cup next year," said Saeed Al Tayer, CEO of Meydan.

"The project is on track and we are as excited as you are to witness racing at this fantastic new venue."

Jaws dropped and onlookers exchanged superlatives by the dozen at the sight of the Meydan Grandstand, which is the world's largest at 1.6km long and features a spectacular, giant cantilevered crescent-shaped roof comprising solar and titanium panels that accentuate the structure's technologically advanced design.

One of the highlights of the Meydan Grandstand is the rooftop Bubble Lounge, which is a late addition to the design and can accommodate 4,500 people.

The racecourse also houses chic food and beverage establishments, the Meydan hotel which has 290 rooms and suites with balconies overlooking the racecourse, the very distinguishable Falcon car that has 8,622 parking bays, a two-kilometre-long horse tunnel and the world's longest LED television screen — a 110-by-10-metre magnum opus that will beam all the action live.

Immense support

"We have received immense support from the Government of Dubai, without whose support all this would not have been possible," said Al Tayer.

"At Meydan, we have facilities that we have never had before and will be bringing racegoers as close to the action as possible. Meydan was benchmarked against the world's top racecourses to ensure the best racing experience.

"Everything we have learnt from hosting the Dubai World Cup over the past 14 years has gone into the design of Meydan."

Meydan has been built at an estimated cost of Dh10 billion and is currently meeting all targets in its bid to be ready for the Carnival on January 8. Over 4,000 workers were reportedly involved in the construction.

Track offers 'unique viewing experience'

Racegoers can for the first time watch the start and finish of the $10million (Dh36.7m) Emirates Airline Dubai World Cup (Group One) from close up when the world's richest race is run on the new all-weather track at Meydan racecourse next March.

Dubai Racing Club CEO Frank Gabriel Jr highlighted that the 2,000 metre contest, which has been run on dirt since its inception in 1996 but has now been replaced by the synthetic Tapeta footing surface, will offer a whole new experience in its 15th running on March 27.

"The Dubai World Cup will start and finish in front of the main grandstand," he said on Tuesday. "This will make for a unique viewing experience."

Gabriel also stressed that the change of surface would not alter the race's appeal.

"Obviously you will see some change in the compositions of the field, but we can only relate to the racegoers that have seen the changes that have taken place at the Breeders' Cup championships at Santa Anita Park in the last two years where they switched from dirt to a synthetic surface.

"The Breeders' Cup Classic has now become an overall competition for not only grass horses but dirt horses as well. The race became a fair playing field and that is our goal with the Dubai World Cup."

The $5 million Dubai Sheema Classic (Group One) will also start and finish in front of the grandstand.

Gabriel also revealed that one of the highlights of the new turf track, which is built outside the artificial surface, is the 1,200 metre straight.

"We see a lot of growth in this distance and will be looking to run more races over this trip," he said.

The $2 million Dubai Golden Shaheen (Group One) has been run over a straight 1,200 metres on dirt since it's inception at Nad Al Sheba, but Gabriel dismissed suggestions that it could be switched to the turf track.

"Not at this point. The sprint will be run on the synthetic track in March."

Phased development to continue at Meydan

The commercial director of Meydan City says the focus is on completing the development's infrastructure while investors find funding.

"We've focused on the infrastructure, which is very important because it gives investors an indication when they can start on their own land," Mohammad A. Nasser Al Khayat, commercial director of Meydan told Gulf News.

While all attention is on the completion of the Meydan Grandstand, 30 per cent of the total gross floor area (GFA) which is due to be completed on January 28, the rest of the development has no set completion timeline.

"We cannot define when construction goes on, it depends on the investor. Some want to start because they have already invested in the land and there are some who are not looking to start just yet. It's a phased development like Dubai Marina which took almost 10 years to be fully ready," Al Khayat said.

Meydan, which means ‘a meeting place' in Arabic, is made up of four districts each with their own distinct style and theme; The Racecourse, Metropolis, Horizons, and Godolphin Parks.

Al Khayat said that when building infrastructure, "We look into how to build it in parallel with the design of the area."

Horizons which consists of high-end commercial and residential buildings and retail outlets has completed 80 per cent of its infrastructure work.

"We have some indications by some investors who are willing to start anywhere by the end of 2010," said Al Khayat.

The development has so far sold 100 out of 140 plots to investors.

Al Khayat says they are currently working with the investors on handovers and transferring other buildings to new investors in the Meydan Metropolis which comprises 50 per cent commercial and 50 per cent residential units.

"The first phase was sold in 2007 for Dh2.6 billion and we're now re-strategising and working closely with new partners."

The sub-station is estimated to be ready by next year.

The Godolphin Parks District, a waterfront living community which was officially launched during the 2008 Dubai World Cup is also focusing on building up its infrastructure.

The Racecourse district which is due for completion in just over a month will include amenities such as the world's first five-star trackside hotel, Meydan Museum and Gallery, IMAX theatre and Grandstand Corporate Suites. The new additions hope to encourage not only race-goers but to promote themselves as a venue for corporate activities.

2010 Racing fixtures at Meydan

28th January 2010 (Thursday)
Dubai International Racing Carnival
(1st Race Meeting)

4th February (Thursday)
Dubai International Racing Carnival
5th February (Friday)

Dubai International Racing Carnival
11th February (Thursday)
Dubai International Racing Carnival

18th February (Thursday)
Dubai International Racing Carnival

19th February (Friday)
Dubai International Racing Carnival

25th February (Thursday)
Dubai International Racing Carnival

4th March (Thursday)
Dubai International Racing Carnival
(Super Thursday)

5th March (Friday)
Dubai International Racing Carnival
(Meydan Masters)

27th March (Saturday)
Dubai World Cup
(Official Launch of Meydan Grandstand and Racecourse)

Do you think Meydan is a unique racing venue? Are you going to be there at the start of the season in January? Post your comments by clicking on the 'comments' link below.