Dubai's Meydan to take horse racing to China

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(AFP/Getty Images - for illustrative purposes only)

(AFP/Getty Images - for illustrative purposes only)

Dubai government-owned developer Meydan Group plans to host an international horse race meeting in China's southwestern city of Chengdu later in 2013, aiming to bring a world class event to the country's nascent racing industry.

Saeed al-Tayer, chairman of the group, which runs Dubai's opulent racecourse where the world's richest race is held on Saturday, said the racing programme is tentatively scheduled for October following a deal with Chengdu officials.

"The ultimate goal is to bring the world class racing to Chengdu and China," he told a news conference in a golden royal enclosure of the Meydan race course.

The racing day in Chengdu's western Wenjiang district, should feature horses and horsemen that frequent the Meydan racing season but Tayer said the number of races and other details will be revealed at a later stage.

Saturday's event at Meydan offers a $27.25m purse for a nine-race card, including $10m for the Dubai World Cup, which will feature 13 runners.

Top US thoroughbreds such as double Breeders' Cup Ladies Classic winner Royal Delta, 2011 Kentucky Derby winner Animal Kingdom along with Dullahan will take on the title defending blue silks of Godolphin of Dubai Ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum.

Shili Yu, president of Guangsha Middle East Construction, which helped build parking at the Meydan race course, said that Dubai's developer was the best choice for Chengdu and that "small changes" to the track and stands will be made to bring them up to the international standards.

"Meydan has a more than 18-year experience of horse racing ... and there is not any betting and gambling," he told reporters. "This is the most important for us because ... China does not allow any gambling during horse racing."

Some industry insiders believe that the Middle East and Asia may eventually shatter Britain's dominance in flat racing in the coming years thanks to a much larger prize money paid there.

Following a racing boom in Japan and Hong Kong, breeders' eyes have been on China due to a rise of its new wealthy class in recent years. The country only made horse races legal in 2008 after banning the sport enjoyed there by the British in 1949.

Tayer said he was not afraid of what impact the gambling ban may have on financial viability of the joint project given experience in Dubai, where a similar restriction is in place.

In 2010, Meydan announced to develop a $4 billion Tianjin Horse City project but Tayer said that the joint-venture was halted after its Chinese partner changed his course.

"We are extremely committed to China and we will continue to outreach. Perhaps... the door will reopen in the future," he said, adding the focus was now on Chengdu.

The Chinese city served as a venue of China's Equestrian Festival in both 2011 and 2012. It has a 2,000-metre-long turf racing track where 16 horses can race together.

Asked what he thought about signing up a horse such as Animal Kingdom for the new Chinese racing project, Bradley Weisbord, chief operating officer of the Team Valor International syndicate, told Reuters: "We have to wait for few more details. It's still too early to say."

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