Meydan Race Track: A Modern Wonder!

6 02 2010

Living in Dubai is often a strange experience. It is a city of opposites, both good and bad. Realising the extraordinary vision of Sheikh Mohammed has ensured that a visitor, arriving after a gap of only a few years, would fail to recognise the city they had left. The city of Dubai has stretched voraciously out along the coast and into the desert and can now provide  everything that even the most greedy modern consumer could desire.

Inevitably this vision, whilst impressive from the outside, is not without its frustrations and eccentricities for those living on the inside of it. While Dubai has been successful in taking its place as one of the worlds major cities (in brand and levels of publicity, if not yet in size), the fact that it has done it in so inorganic a fashion, means that processes and the ability to operate it is sometimes left behind.

The grandstand, which also boasts the world’s longest LED screen, can accommodate 98,000 people at full capacity – 17,500 seated and 80,500 standing.(ITP Images)

The Hotel and Grandstand

A week ago Meydan, Sheikh Mohammed’s brand new horse racing complex, opened its doors for the first time to an amazed public. On Thursday evening the Compulsive Hooker’s team travelled out to the stadium for what we hoped and expected would be an amusing evening losing money on the horses. (Gambling of course is forbidden in Dubai, but a bet amongst yourselves makes it more interesting!) Unfortunately Meydan seems to encapsulate everything good and bad about Dubai in one enormous racing track.

Arriving you are confronted by the sheer size of the complex. It is wrong to call it simply a race track as within its entirety there are offices, hotels and eventually, if the vision is totally realised, it will be a mini city by itself. The stand itself is approximately a mile long, running down the length of one side of the track and up to about 12 storeys or so high. Only the lower parts of this are given over to seating with the majority of it being glass fronted restaurants and corporate hospitality boxes. Whilst it is impressive in its size and luxury of its finishing, like much in Dubai it seems to have no soul. There is no indication of why you are there and in many ways it appears to be the entrance to some enormous and very posh private hospital. Perhaps we are being harsh on the place as after all soul and the required ‘feel’, often are acquired through traditions which of course require time, but somehow we doubt it. Sadly what had been a much anticipated evening out turned into one full of the frustrations common to what afflicts other aspects of daily life.

Soul or no soul it is still a great place to watch horse racing. It would, hoever, be a fantastic place if someone hadn’t decided to place what must be a 50 or 60 metre TV screen directly in the middle of the track, so obscuring the back straight. Decisions like these abound, quite frankly unneccesary and irritating ‘lift’ music blares out all evening which achieves nothing but remove any atmosphere built up by the crowd, food is available, but the choices of either very basic fast food or £100 a head cordon bleu cooking mean that there is nothing available for the average punter. The £100 a head by the way is only the start of it as it goes rapidly up from there.

What should be an incredible place to watch racing has been turned into a frustrating and sleep inducing (thanks to the soft jazz music) experience and unfortunately is atypical of many of Dubai’s ventures. We only hope that these are early teething problems which will be sorted out by the time the world arrives for the Dubai World Cup in March. On the whole we are very positive on Dubai and its ventures, although you cannot help but be frustrated when something that should be so incredible leaves you cold.




5 responses

6 02 2010

Very interesting bradders. I have to say my comment may be very limited due to my knowledge of Dubai itself and the fact that I have never visited the Meydan Race Track. From how you have described the venue I can agree that it must be extremely frustrating. It sounds to me as if the whole essence of the sport has been lost to a desire for modernisation and to remain in keeping with Dubais ‘dazzle’ factor.

I think you comments on soul are fair but I do somewhat dissagree. Obviously I havent been so I cannot say whether it feels ‘soulful’ but surely its ability to, as you say, encapsulate everything good and bad about dubai gives it its soul right there. I do agree that the soul of an engineering structure comes with time and tradition but I also think that it comes from things like nigly little faults. Take concorde for example, a massively soulful piece of engineering, not without its faults and only meant for the very upper class. Therefore, in a very simplified explanation of where I am trying to go with this, If you fly concorde, watch the races at Meydan, but if you fly 737 stick to what you know at Beverly or Great Yarmouth.

6 02 2010

Well put Stridey, but I have to point out that although the head lad of ‘The Compulsive Hooker’ is a horse racing novice, (in fact, could be compared to the Ryanair type racegoer!) his trusty sidekick has been to many a race track home and abroad and had the same feeling about Meydan. Nad al Sheba, which was the old track in Dubai, was full of atmosphere and saw many a legend gallop past the winning post. I have no idea why they felt the need to knock it to the ground and build this monstrosity and out price the regular racegoers of the previous track. I am a firm believer that horse racing should be for everyone and every other country keeps that in mind, except for in Dubai where I think they don’t have any ‘racing’ people organising the race nights.

Of course the problem is with my beloved sport is that you need to go to Beverly of Great Yarmouth to meet real racing people as there are far fewer of them at the flash tracks like Meydan or Ascot. It won’t deter me from going to Meydan again, I am just hoping that they improve the niggling things that detract from watching the top quality horses on view. To be fair it’s the impressive synthetic surface which has everyone talking in racing circles so maybe we should sit on the grass and we’d feel differently!

7 02 2010

Thanks both for your comments. I think really that the other issue that I didn’t mention was actually that the size of the place may be too big for the thursday night crowd. The stadium can hold 98,500 people and consequently a thursday evening crowd of a few thousand (if that) is always going to struggle re atmosphere.

The problem with Dubai is this constant striving for dazzle factor which in many cases sacrifices practicality and usefulness for aesthetic values. This is what has happened here. All is not lost and as Lynchie says, if they could bring in a racing person to organise the place and the meetings rather than what appears to be an overworked hotel marketing exec all would be well. Get the little things right on the night and all will fall into place. Sadly whilst looking impressive it somehow leaves me flat.

19 02 2010
Northern girl

I’m not so sure about the Concorde analogy, hopefully Meydan won’t go down in a ball of fire, but I’m sure we haven’t seen the best from the race course yet. Dubai World Cup night will be it’s judgement day, by international and local media alike but in the meantime, the not insubstantial prize money has ensured a strong international presence and any keen Dubai racegoers can see the best of the international jockeys in the paddock every Thursday…of course that does not guarantee the quality of the horses!

28 03 2010
The Dubai World Cup Experience « The Compulsive Hooker

[…] with some trepidation. Secondly, long term readers of this site will know our views on our first experience of the venue – suffice it to say we were underwhelmed by the overall […]

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