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22 April 2024

Racing into the future

By Joy Chakravarty



Saeed Al Tayer has a job on his hands – giving physical form to the expansive and extraordinary vision of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.


Al Tayer is the Chairman of Meydan, the one-of-its-kind racecourse district development (illustrated above) now taking shape with a speed that would even put a Dubai World Cup thoroughbred to shame.


The objective of Meydan City is not only to replace the Nad Al Sheba racecourse but to change the face of racing. And with the deadline set for the 2010 Dubai World Cup to be hosted on the new track, Al Tayer and his team are racing against time.


But if there is one thing they are exceptionally good at – it is racing.


Al Tayer is also the Chairman of Dubai Racing Club, which has wowed the world with its organisation of the ultra-successful Dubai World Cup year after year. Meydan promises to be just like Dubai World Cup – it will grab global attention through its sheer grandeur and quality.


There is a simple benchmark for its success – Meydan has to set the standard for any other development of this kind in the world.


So far contracts worth Dh4.6 billion have already been awarded, and this is only for the racing district.


With a seating capacity of 60,000, Meydan may not be the biggest racecourse in the world – Victoria Racing Club in Flemington, venue of the Melbourne Cup, can seat 120,000 people, while Ascot in the United Kingdom has a capacity of 80,000. Even Nad Al Sheba could hold up to 40,000 at the World Cup. But then none of them even come close in terms of the entire packaging.


Apart from the 76 million sq ft racing facility – six times the size of Flemington – featuring state-of-the-art dirt and turf tracks, the Meydan racecourse will feature a stunning grandstand spanning almost one kilometre, and covered car parking for 10,000 vehicles. It will also have a first-of-its-kind all-villa Banyan Tree hotel attached to it, and an 18-hole golf course.


But that is not all. A four-kilometre canal will connect Meydan to the Creek, thus providing an alternate mode of transport to the visitors.


In close proximity to the racecourse is the Meydan City – a residential community that will also have retail outlets and a marina – and the Business Park.


Al Tayer says: “Meydan will set the benchmark for all future racecourses, and indeed all sporting venues in the world.


“His Highness [Sheikh Mohammed] did set us a very challenging target, but we have promised to deliver as per his expectations.


“We have set our objective to be the No 1 in the world for a racing district. The Meydan project will enhance the world-class facilities that we have in the UAE and complement the other iconic projects being completed.”


Work is progressing on a war footing, involving more than 1,000 people around the clock. Most of the piling work for the grandstand has been done, and Tayer is confident of having a world-class set-up by the 2010 World Cup.


“We believe it will be a huge landmark for the country. It is a mammoth project, but we will meet our deadline,” Tayer added.


The centrepiece of Meydan racing district will be the distinct Teo A Khing-designed grandstand. The renowned Malaysian architect created the entire Meydan masterplan, but the kilometre-long grandstand stands out.


On his design inspiration, Khing said: “The design is of a falcon, which is a defining symbol of the local heritage of the UAE, and denotes decisiveness and speed.

“It would appear that the falcon wings are protecting the cars. We have also incorporated solar panels in the wings in accordance with Sheikh Mohammed’s directive of using green energy.”


Al Tayer also revealed Sheikh Mohammed’s personal involvement in the project, and the fact that he has made several suggestions during the planning stage.


“Right from the conceptualisation stage, he has given invaluable input to the project. He loves his horses and has a passion for racing. But let’s not forget that while he is an expert on horses, he is also an expert on many other things. He always has something to say that would make us start thinking differently.”


The developers are ensuring the racing district retains the buzz throughout the year. The Banyan Tree-operated grandstand hotel, the golf course, and the restaurants will make it a year-round attraction. And the grandstand will also be used to host conferences and concerts.


Al Tayer said Meydan officials have gone to great lengths, quite literally, to ensure the new racecourse is like no other in the world.


He said: “At the start of this project, we conducted an internal benchmarking exercise. A team was formed, which visited all the leading racecourses in the world.


“They looked at two things – what exists in other places, from which we can learn, and what they do not have, which we can incorporate.


“From the feedback that we have got so far, I think Meydan has surpassed the expectations of the people.


“But given the kind of projects existing in Dubai, and His Highness’s strong association with racing and horses, we know that the eyes of the world are watching us.


“I can only promise one thing – we will not disappoint them.”