Riders saddle up for Dubai World Cup

Richest race in sport, the $10m Dubai World Cup

DUBAI // The grass is cut, the floors are polished and the signs are up directing fans to the world's richest horse race.

And cash prizes totalling US$26 million (Dh95.4m) - including $10m for the Dubai World Cup itself, the richest purse in racing - mean the world's top trainers, jockeys and finest horses are all here already.

Behind the scenes at the Meydan Racecourse, Frank Gabriel will be keeping a watchful eye on more than the animals. The chief executive of Dubai Racing Club must make sure everything is perfect, from light bulbs to catering, before 14 thoroughbreds thunder from the starting line in today's first race, the 4.35pm Dubai Kahayla Classic.

It is only the second time the World Cup is being held at Meydan. For 14 years, it took place next door, at Nad al Sheeba. That was replaced last year by the 1.6km grandstand, a five-star hotel and the hospitality suites at Meydan.

"At Nad al Sheeba, we had to cater for 40,000 to 45,000 people when a lot of the infrastructure was temporary, like the seating," said Mr Gabriel, 56, an American. "With Meydan, we have everything enclosed in the one envelope, which is a big plus for us."

For the past few days, close to 3,000 staff have been making final preparations for the spectators alone.

When the venue was completed in January last year, they had just two-and-a-half months to get the facilities ready, and only the third, fourth and fifth floors were open in time. "It went down to the last day, but we were able to get everything we needed on that day ready."

This year, all eight floors will be open. "We've been able to fine tune and adjust things. Last year's World Cup was the first big crowd," Mr Gabriel said. "There were crowds at the start. You don't want queues, no one wants the lines. We want it to run smoothly throughout. It's like anything: easy in, easy out."

There will be eight races throughout the day, ending with the World Cup at 9.35pm. The crowds, Mr Gabriel said, were likely to be a mix of serious race fans and general spectators. "For people who love horse racing, it's a thrill for them to be where the best horses are. If you love horse racing, you can see some of the best horses compete and see the best horse win on that day, and in your mind try and choose which horse would win."

For general spectators, it's an entertaining day out. "Horse racing is a great event as a spectator sport, but you have to be engaged in other activities. That is where you mix in the entertainment part of it, that drives overall attendance."

After the racing is over, entertainment will be provided by the British singer, Jessie Jess, and Seb Fontaine, a club DJ who once ruled the Ibiza clubbing scene.

"At the end of the day, the event is the race - the eight core races. But we do not want to discontinue that entertainment atmosphere for all our fans," Mr Gabriel said.