Meydan fights the doubters

Sheikh Mohammed's new £1.2bn course dogged by financial meltdown in Dubai

Long before the rest of the world, the European racing community was already familiar with the character and ambition of the man who is now ruler of Dubai. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum introduced himself as one who saw horizons as thresholds, not limits; one whose apparently infinite resources seemed merely commensurate with his sense of adventure.

Yet even investment on a scale without precedent in the history of racing represented but one, small dimension of his family's plans for their homeland. And the emirate's wealth has now been stretched to the point where disturbing fissures have begun to appear, if not in their racing and breeding interests, then certainly elsewhere.

Tomorrow represents the start of a critical phase in the Maktoums' 30-year relationship with racing. The breathtaking new racecourse at Meydan will not present a drama equal to its stage until the end of March, when the sport's first $10million (£6million) prize will be contested in the Dubai World Cup. But its claims as the most sumptuous sporting facility on the planet will in the meantime be measured by the Dubai International Carnival, which opens tomorrow evening.

Such claims reflect precisely the immoderation that has now come to be seen as reckless by those financial institutions now giving Dubai a dodgy credit rating. Racing's idea of a return on your investment tends to be rather less fastidious, of course. A lack of dividends – in the shape of big race winners – would be presumed to cost the Maktoums pride, and little more. As such, the symbolism of Meydan becomes obvious.

The Maktoums need to renew, and extend beyond racing, that old faith in their invulnerability. Will Meydan be perceived as some fabulous gesture of belief in a destiny underwritten by their own energy and vision? Or will it become one last gaudy counterpoint to the less flattering stories about the emirate's breathless development?

Sheikh Mohammed himself is exasperated by the doubters. Last month he declared that "it is the tree-bearing fruit that becomes the target of stone throwers". His portentous terms of reference will surely be satisfied by Meydan, which is expected to be filled to its 60,000 capacity tomorrow. The redevelopment of Ascot, which qualified it as a unique flagship of European horseracing, cost £210m. It is thought that the Meydan budget may well approach $2 billion (£1.2bn).

Dubai remains ideally placed as the potential nexus of a maturing international sport. Certainly there will be a far greater geographical spread of competition than at the Breeders' Cup, which bills itself as the World Thoroughbred Championships. The Carnival has drawn horses from all points of the compass, from Brazil to Japan, from Australia to Norway. Moreover the World Cup, previously staged on dirt, will now be contested on a synthetic surface - Tapeta - and has duly lured Gio Ponti, the outstanding colt beaten only by Zenyatta in the Breeders' Cup Classic.

That was at Santa Anita, where there is now distressing talk of the synthetic track being restored to dirt. One conceivable reward for this shocking regression might be a permanent contract to stage the Breeders' Cup. If that were so, the painful but necessary catharsis currently underway in the American sport would be disastrously reversed by its reactionaries. And their inevitable isolation would provide an obvious cue for Meydan.

Either way, Sheikh Mohammed should soon prove a resurgent force in racing and breeding, thanks to massive new investment in young stallions. Only yesterday, meanwhile, his elite Godolphin stable confirmed yet another new recruit, in the runaway Cesarewitch winner, Darley Sun.

Godolphin will have seven runners on the first card at Meydan, but for those to whom a balmy desert night seems remote there remain warming prospects on our own turf. Huntingdon today welcomes the JCB Triumph Hurdle favourite, Mille Chief, as well as Mighty Man, one of the best staying hurdlers around before he tried his hand over fences at Hereford last month. But there was anxiety for Mille Chief's connections last night, when Robert Thornton was detained in hospital following a fall at Leicester.

Turf account: Chris McGrath

Nap

Miss Vertical (1.40 Musselburgh) Laid solid foundations in bumpers before shaping very well on her hurdling debut at Bangor last month. Set plenty to do before pulling a long way clear of the rest in pursuit of a couple of useful types. Yard in top form.

Next best

Handsome Cross (5.10 Kempton) Back to form in a visor and looked unlucky not to win again at Lingfield last time, hampered at a critical stage before flying late to join a three-way photo. Even if no longer the horse he was, he remains very well handicapped.

One to watch

Samurai Way (Venetia Williams) remains lightly raced over hurdles but his dour finish up the hill when fourth at Towcester on Sunday implied that he could prove well treated in handicaps, once he steps up in distance.

Where the money's going

Rite Of Passage, useful on the Flat and impressive on his hurdling debut at Leopardstown on Sunday, is 7-1 from 10-1 with William Hill for the Neptune Investments Novices' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Voices
The Sumatran tiger, endemic to the Indonesian island of Sumatra, is an endangered species
voicesJonathon Porritt: The wild tiger population is thought to have dropped by 97 per cent since 1900
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Story line: Susanoo slays the Yamata no Orochi serpent in the Japanese version of a myth dating back 40,000 years
arts + entsApplying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Life and Style
Popular plonk: Lambrusco is selling strong
Food + drinkNaff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
News
Shake down: Michelle and Barack Obama bump knuckles before an election night rally in Minnesota in 2008, the 'Washington Post' called it 'the fist bump heard round the world'
newsThe pound, a.k.a. the dap, greatly improves hygiene
Arts and Entertainment
La Roux
music
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Fellows as John Shuttleworth
comedySean O'Grady joins Graham Fellows down his local Spar
News
people
News
Ross Burden pictured in 2002
people
News
Elisabeth Murdoch: The 44-year-old said she felt a responsibility to 'stand up and be counted’'
media... says Rupert Murdoch
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Extras
indybest
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

QA Manager - North Manchester - Nuclear & MOD - £40k+

£35000 - £41000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: QA Manager -...

Property Finance Partner

Very Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: LONDON - BANKING / PROPERTY FINANCE - ...

Agile Tester

£28000 - £30000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: An ambitious...

Senior SAP MM Consultant, £50,000 - £60,000, Birmingham

£50000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Senior SAP MM C...

Day In a Page

A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

The Guest List 2014

Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

Jokes on Hollywood

With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

It's the best of British art... but not all is on display

Voted for by the British public, the artworks on Art Everywhere posters may be the only place where they can be seen
Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Critic claims 'I was the inspiration for Blanche DuBois'

Blanche Marvin reveals how Tennessee Williams used her name and an off-the-cuff remark to create an iconic character
Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Sometimes it's hard to be a literary novelist

Websites offering your ebooks for nothing is only the latest disrespect the modern writer is subjected to, says DJ Taylor
Edinburgh Fringe 2014: The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

The comedy highlights, from Bridget Christie to Jack Dee
Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

Dame Jenny Abramsky: 'We have to rethink. If not, museums and parks will close'

The woman stepping down as chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund is worried