When we think about horse racing we think glamour, thrills, sunshine, and exciting times down at the track as competitors jockey for position, hoping to be first past the post and deliver the glory of a race day win. We think power and wealth, attendees with hundreds of thousands riding on a ticket. We think ladies in their finery, kicking fashion goals and taking in the course of the afternoon and a nail biting finish.
What we may not think about is the environmental impact of racing, especially in a place such as Dubai. As an arid country, the resources required to maintain a racetrack in peak condition are higher than you would find in other countries around the world.
Dubai’s notorious temperatures and their effect
You’ll have noted racetracks where famous races are run, such as Flemington, Australia, or Epsom Downs in the United Kingdom. However, these racetracks are located in areas where the weather is much cooler and rain is frequent, areas where track maintenance would be far less resource heavy than in Dubai. For example, the highest temperature recorded at the Epsom Downs track is 38 degrees Celsius, but highs during summer usually average 24 degrees Celsius, at around 13 overnight. Let’s compare this to Dubai’s Meydan racecourse, where daily temperatures over summer hover at around 41 degrees Celsius (and 30 overnight), and the temperature has even been as high as 49 degrees.
Not only do these temperatures make a turf track that much more difficult to maintain, but it makes it near impossible to breed thoroughbreds in these temperatures. Horses raced in Dubai have been imported from all over the world, and are owned by both nationals as well as those from other countries looking to get in on the action.
Horses within Dubai are well cared for and maintained, and in fact, in 2014, the World Organisation for Animal Health held the Conference on International Horse Movement in the region. This marked Dubai’s name on the map as a horse movement epicentre – one where careful considerations including quarantine times et. al. are necessary.
The Dubai World Cup at Meydan
Dubai hosts the many times richest race day in the world, the Dubai World Cup at Meydan at Dubai Racing Club, which carries with it a purse of $10 million. In fact, Dubai offers the highest cash prize for wins, on average, of any country in the world. But with all the money that pours both into and out of the races held at Meydan, and Dubai’s other racetracks, Jebel Ali Racecourse, Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club, Sharjah Equestrian & Racing Club, and Al Ain Racecourse, we have to also think about the impact on the environment of holding races in these sort of weather conditions.
Meydan Grandstand was built with renewable energy in mind – with the grandstand itself topped by solar panels to help power operations within the facility. The solar panel installation was finished in early 2010, and the installation contained 4,840 panels. These panels power 20% of the structure’s energy needs and it was also the largest solar array in the country (at the time) to connect up to the local power grid.
In fact, the UAE are currently amongst world leaders in terms of sustainable energy production. By 2020, it is expected that they will exceed the 7% sustainable energy target that was set by the Dubai Electricity and Water Authority. The majority of new construction and building works underway in the region, including works on raceways takes a serious look at environmental concerns and how buildings can be built to be more environmentally friendly or sustainable.
A Tapeta surface?
Back before Meydan was built it was trumpeted that their main racecourse would not be a traditional turf or dirt course, instead it would be made from Tapeta, a turf alternative. Dirt surfaces are only traditionally used for racing in the UAE and the US, most other countries race on turf. For other competing countries, racing on Tapeta meant that international horses were more suited to racing on the track, after training on turf.
Tapeta, a synthetic surface made from a combination of sand, fibre, rubber, and wax is used as a topping surface above asphalt in some tracks around the world. Tapeta was replaced for a main dirt track in Dubai in 2014, as a nod to the US horses travelling to Dubai to compete. Whether Tapeta is a better surface than dirt for the Dubai World Cup to be run on is pure speculation among horse racing experts.
It is certainly true that Tapeta and dirt are more environmentally friendly options than (the popular worldwide) turf. While turf can be gorgeous to look at, and the ideal surface for many horses to race on, the amount of water needed to keep a turf track is very high – especially in warmer countries such as Dubai.
Unfortunately, dirt tracks still need watering to keep them in the best condition. This watering is usually done overnight, so as not to disturb any races or activities. Dirt surfaces vary all over the world, however dirt used in Dubai is generally highly rated for dirt racing.
There are still race day options for international trainers wanting to bring their horses to Dubai to race on a turf-style surface, although the prize money isn’t quite as impressive. The Dubai Sheema Classic and the Dubai Duty Free, which are both pure turf tracks both have $6 million purses attached.
Hopefully, racecourses around Dubai will continue to look to alternate synthetic turf surfaces when designing new tracks as an environmentally responsible alternative to both turf and dirt tracks. There are many alternatives on the market, however consistent testing is needed to ensure the track holds up to the performance and environment demands required of the surface.
The Sustainable City
The Sustainable City is one of Dubai’s most prominent sustainable energy initiatives in current years. The city touts 100% water recycling and reuse, 100% waste diversion, and net zero energy development as some of its more interesting achievements. A 500 villa community, the Sustainable City has been designed to be as energy efficient as possible, while at the same time being a truly liveable community, with plenty of facilities to ensure residents live as they would usually in any other community.
The project also features an equestrian centre and 4km round horse track, as key features of the development. It just goes to show that we can have pure green initiatives that take in equestrian activities – the two things don’t have to be at loggerheads with careful planning. Home to 32 horses with instructors, lessons, and functions, it is a true achievement.
Travel and your carbon footprint
In the UAE it is largely illegal to bet on horse racing itself. However this isn’t a problem for online betting platforms and bookies registered overseas, who can all tune in and follow along in real time as the horses race the tracks in Dubai. If you’ve ever wanted to travel to one of Dubai’s tracks to participate in the action you might do well to look at your trip’s carbon footprint.
Travelling anywhere, especially to a far flung corner of the globe, can not only be a costly exercise, but it can also generate a lot of excess waste. Instead of travelling for race days, it is a better experience environmentally to sit and watch from the comfort of your own home. When it comes to betting on race, and even those running in Dubai, it’s easy to find safe options online that will allow you to bet on some of the world’s richest horse races.
Dubai and the environment: Moving forward
Dubai is consistently becoming more and more environmentally aware and conscious when building works around the city, and this certainly extends to the horse racing community and the facilities being built. This is now becoming an inbuilt part of the planning process, rather than a heedless add on or afterthought in the design process.
Green building in Dubai is “about achieving a balance between the economic development and environmental protection”, and is required under legislature for all new buildings since 2014. When building in Dubai, all people now need to take these regulations into account and fulfil their obligations to the best of their abilities.
This is just one of the ways in which Dubai is becoming a green world leader. While it may seem odd to have an expanse of turf alongside a grandstand in the middle of the desert, you can be assured that the environmental impact of doing so has been carefully assessed in advance.
As Dubai moves towards a greener future, we can be assured that turf and horse racing clubs will also be carefully following along. We are now required to be more environmentally responsible in all facets of life. We can no longer waste precious resources without thinking about some sort of contingency plan. And we are happy to hear that horse racing, as an industry in Dubai, is following suit by doing their bit for the environment.