Monday, March 28, 2011

Reflections on Dubai

Friday night, I was invited to dine with the Kinsale King family, whom I had only recently met. Dr. Sheehy and his family were kind enough to take me along with them on their pre-race celebration in the restaurant in the top of the Burj al Arab Hotel (the one that looks like a sailboat.) Security is so tight, you're not allowed past the guard post without a reservation number (no curious tourists allowed.) The hotel is as mad a thing as you have ever seen in your life.

Burj al Arab. photo.
If you read my post about the Arabian nights party last week, you'll guess what happened at dinner...fireworks. I have a theory that every meal in Dubai has to contain hummus and fireworks, but it's not very often that you see the fireworks below you (though I did have dinner at Windows on the World on July 4th once, so it wasn't the first time I've seen them from above.)

Dr. Sheehy is an MD from County Cork, Ireland whose profession has enabled him to indulge in his love of horses, a passion of many Irishmen, but I'd wager none are more passionate about it than Dr. Sheehy's family.

The fact that they were kind enough to invite me out knowing that their horse was experiencing discomfort from allergic reactions spoke volumes about their sportsmanship and general goodwill. Carl O'Callaghan stayed behind to make sure Kinsale King was doing well.

A fantastic evening.

Kinsale King. Michael J Marten photo.

Saturday saw more hummus at the breakfast buffet at the Ritz Carlton (no fireworks this time) with Olly Tait. More hummus, and another buffet (there is a buffet at every meal in Dubai) with Bill Nader at the Royal Meridien. No fireworks, again.

Then I headed out to Meydan for my second year at the new racecourse.

A couple of things struck me on the trip out. You hear that construction has come to a halt in Dubai, and you expect to find the city abandoned. I did see a number of buildings on which construction appeared to have stopped, but an equal or greater number that are being worked on.

The hotel I stayed in is in the process of doubling in size, and there's another hotel being built next door on the beach. Yes, there are projects which have stopped, but there is plenty going on.

Just as I saw last year in the hotel, it was filled with a very international clientele, but more than I remember, an amazing amount of Russians. My hotel was a family hotel, a beach property with a great pool, and the number of Russian families was remarkable. I wondered if there were anyone left in Moscow this week.

Driving to the track, I remarked upon the fact that while the same number of people were attending, last year's really bad traffic had been totally alleviated this year, with far more roadways having been constructed.

Thankfully, I had worn comfortable shoes, because I decided to take in the whole experience of the racetrack. I walked from the international officials suite at the top of the stretch to the John Ferguson/Darley executive suite (thank you for the hospitality), which is situated right above the paddock on the sixth level and which provides an amazing view.
Meydan. Horsephotos photo.
Next, I walked the building from the performance stage to the top of the stretch through the apron hospitality/champagne bar. It was wall-to-wall people, sitting on couches, standing around cocktail tables, drinking champagne, beer and wine, having an amazing time out in the most pleasant weather on a beautiful night (with a little sandstorm thrown in for local flavor.)

The Falcon hospitality area was past the wire, toward the hotel. There, I ran into my old friend Harry Herbert, who has been enlisted to help with the hospitality, and his beautiful wife, Chica.

I ran into Princess Haya in the paddock. She was with her daughter, Shaikha al Jaleela Bint Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, who was holding the Dubai flag and a handful of flowers and wearing a decorative yellow dress. All I could think of was how much I missed my little girl who was the same age, and how we are both introducing our daughters to racing (Juliette Weisbord will be at Keeneland Blue Grass weekend.)

I don't think there could be a greater facility anywhere that could accommodate 50 - 60,000 people in the style they do in that building--the food, the hospitality the service, the half-time show, and more.

And of course, there were fireworks at the half-time show, and more fireworks when the races ended.

It is a spectacle that is almost beyond description. I couldn't imagine any place could have been more successful in pulling it off. Tremendously great job.

I ended my day with a ride back to the hotel for a shower and a trip back to the Dubai airport for the famous international flight departures. It is amazing to be in an airport with wall-to-wall people shopping at 1 in the morning--flying anywhere in the world from this international hub.

Aidan O'Brien was on my plane back to Heathrow. I thought it was great that he brought some horses and was thrilled to see them run very well.

I hope there will be a lot more of that in the future. Having him and his owners show up in Dubai can only be good for racing.

-- Barry Weisbord


The_Knight_Sky said...

Sounds like you had a great time. And perhaps got Princess Haya's secret recipe for "hummus". :D

Kid Baccarat said...

Barry, Thanks for the Dubai round-up at Meydan. But I thought noodles and fried rice were your thing at buffets.

Bradley Weisbord said...

At least you now blog. Only way I know your alive after 2 weeks on the road, and next time at least mention that you miss your sons as well, we know it is not true, but make us feel good :-)