Meydan to Return to Dirt Surface

The world's richest race, the $10 million G1 Dubai World Cup, will once again be contested on dirt after it was announced yesterday that Meydan Racecourse will replace its Tapeta track with dirt. Meydan has used Tapeta, in addition to its 2400 meter turf track, since its opening in 2010, but will have its new dirt surface installed in time for the 2014/15 racing season. 
Saeed H Al Tayer, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Meydan Group, said: “This is a decision that will be best for the future of Meydan racing and the Dubai World Cup Carnival. In the coming year we will celebrate the 20th running of the Dubai World Cup and the track will be the natural surface that proved so successful during the first 14 years of this magnificent race day.” 
The Dubai World Cup program commenced in 1996 at the now defunct Nad Al Sheba Racecourse, which had dirt and turf tracks and was torn down to accommodate the construction of Meydan. Cigar, trained by Bill Mott, won the inaugural edition of the Dubai World Cup on the dirt, and U.S-trained runners–including the likes of Cigar, Silver Charm and Curlin–brought home eight of the 14 Dubai World Cups contested on the dirt, with the remaining six going to Sheikh Mohammed colorbearers trained in Europe. The U.S. has garnered just one World Cup trophy since the switch to Tapeta, in 2013 with Animal Kingdom, and this year there were no U.S-trained runners in the race they once dominated. 
Speculation of a move from Tapeta for Meydan was high after Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al Maktoum spoke out against the Meydan surface the week prior to this year's World Cup, and the flames were fanned just days ago when pictures began circulating on Twitter of construction work underway on the track. 
Local trainer Satish Seemar, who was involved in the development of Dubai's racing industry and has been based in the Emirates ever since, said the decision to move back to dirt was a good one not only for the Dubai World Cup, but the entire Dubai racing program. 
“For the bigger picture for racing in Dubai, I think it's a good decision, because it gives the American horses a better chance,” he said. “There are some good races for turf horses, and that gives the Europeans a fair chance. I think the American horses were not getting that, so now they get an equal chance.” 
Seemar noted that his horses generally performed well on the Tapeta, but he said he thinks the dirt will suit much of the horse population. 
“My horses are doing well on the Tapeta, but on the overall picture I think it's the best thing,” he said. “We do have a lot of American type of horses who would prefer the dirt surface, so I think it's great news for racing.” 
Trainer Dale Romans has had mixed fortunes in Dubai. He trained Roses in May to victory in the World Cup at Nad Al Sheba in 2005, but watched his Grade I winners Dullahan (Even the Score) and Little Mike (Spanish Steps) flounder over the Tapeta last year. While Romans said both the Nad Al Sheba dirt and Meydan Tapeta were good surfaces to train on, he supports the return to dirt. 
“I think it's a good decision, at least for the U.S. horses,” Romans said. “I can only speak from a World Cup perspective, because I don't train on it daily, but when I was there and it was dirt, it was an excellent racetrack. It reminded me very much of Churchill Downs, and I thought that it was fine.” 
“With that being said, when I was there and training over the synthetic surface they had, it was a very good, safe racetrack, as you would expect of anything coming out of Dubai–it's always first class,” he added. “So it was the best of the best of synthetics. But I'm pretty much a traditionalist in racing. I don't like change, and I think horses are born to race on grass or dirt. Not rubber.” 
British trainer Jamie Osborne trained Toast of New York (Thewayyouare) to victory in this year's G2 UAE Derby on the Tapeta, and shortly thereafter announced his intentions to bring his charge back as a 4-year-old in a bid for the world's richest race. Speaking to At The Races yesterday, Osborne noted his plans haven't changed. 
“It wasn't a surprise as we heard it was coming and my initial reaction was obviously one of disappointment,” Osborne told the site. “We have a very talented horse who acted on the Tapeta very well, but it's not the end of the world as far as we're concerned.” 
“Our horse might well go on dirt and we're certainly not abandoning Plan A [ the Dubai World Cup],” he added. “What it might mean is we may have to have a practice on dirt somewhere in the autumn. Whether that is at Santa Anita [for the Breeders' Cup] or somewhere else, we'll just have to see. It might also change the way we arrive in Meydan next year. We will probably train him out there, rather than running him straight off the plane. We decided against running in the Kentucky Derby on dirt, but the primary reason wasn't the surface. It was more to do with timing than anything.” 

Tapeta Founder Speaks Out 
Michael Dickinson, the founder of Tapeta Footings, issued the following statement yesterday: 
Tapeta Footings are disappointed to hear that Meydan are replacing the Tapeta track with an American dirt track. It is a step backwards. It is sad that we have already lost two Polytracks in the U.S. and now we are losing yet another synthetic track at Meydan. The U.S. is the only major racing nation who race on dirt. When the Dubai World Cup was on dirt it was only ever won by the U.S. and the UAE; it was not a World Cup. Since it has been run on Tapeta, the winners have come from four different countries, including Animal Kingdom from the U.S. On two occasions there were only seven runners on dirt and last year on Tapeta there were 16 runners and overfilled. On Dubai World Cup night of 2014, the six Tapeta races were won by six different countries. It was fair, formful and above all safe. 
Bill Casner who is not only is an American but the owner of Well Armed, the last winner of the Dubai World Cup on dirt, was quoted in The Daily Racing Form: “I struggle to understand the thought process behind changing to a surface that you know is going to increase fatalities. When a horse breaks down any time, it's a terrible thing. But when a horse breaks down in front of the grandstand in the afternoon, two things happen: People will turn around and leave the track in droves, never to return, and a jockey will go down and be injured to some degree, whether it's a bruise or paralysis. When there are agendas placed above the safety of horses and riders, to me, it is unconscionable.” 
American Owner George Strawbridge stated: “The Tapeta surface has several advantages over a dirt track. The main advantage is that it is safer, which after all, should be the most important consideration.” 
The decision is difficult to understand as the Godolphin horses training on Tapeta at Al Quoz won 17 races at the Carnival, including the Dubai World Cup, while Godolphin, with the same number of horses training at another location on dirt, only won six races at the Carnival. Tapeta would have loved the opportunity to make Meydan as good as the Tapeta at Al Quoz, and we even offered the chance of a green track rather than the black one. However, Ernst Oertel, the leading trainer in the UAE, has asked to buy some of the old Tapeta from Meydan to put on his training farm in Abu Dhabi, clearly indicating that he is in favor of the surface. The two best possible U.S. candidates for last year's Dubai World Cup would have been Orb and Mucho Macho Man, because they absolutely love Tapeta. They did not run in the race for other reasons. The Tapeta at Presque Isle Downs has proven to be safer than any dirt track in America, and there is no possible chance of it being replaced because both the management and horsemen love the surface.

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