IT’S one of the world’s richest horseracing meets, in one of the wealthiest cities on Earth.
Welcome to the grandeur of the Dubai World Cup.
It features nine glamorous races, where the likes of super-jockey Frankie Dettori compete on some of the most expensive horses in racing, as well as a musical and firework extravaganza.
At this year’s event – back for the first time since 2019 due to Covid — the likes of Becky Hill, Rudimental and Sigala belted out tunes long into the night to a dramatic backdrop of lasers, smoke machines and drones.
And that was after 80,000 race-goers descended on the Meydan course to watch the big-name jockeys battle it out on a mix of turf and sand for a giant £9.8million cash pot.
The yearly event, launched by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum in 1996, attracts thousands from around the world every March.
It’s a staple in the racing calendar but also a chance for Dubai’s glitterati to show off their gobsmacking wealth.
With betting banned at the track, it’s a totally different experience to a day at the races in Britain.
But a raffle-style competition still allows you to gamble for cash prizes.
Cheering on my horse as it broke to the finish line, I was surrounded by impeccably manicured women in sky-scraper heels and uber-rich businessmen flashing the cash.
But glam racing weekends are not the only reason scores of tourists are flocking to sunny Dubai right now.
Visitors to this emirate — one of seven which make up the United Arab Emirates — grew 32 per cent last year, to more than seven million.
And that figure is set to be exceeded this year, with four million having already visited by spring.
It’s not hard to see why. Often renowned for its all-day boozy brunches and Instagram-worthy, rich-kid lifestyle, Dubai is desperately trying to shake off its TOWIE reputation and prove it has more than just fast cars and fancy skyscrapers.
beauty and awe
There’s the Aquarium & Underwater Zoo, featuring more than 400 sharks nestled in the heart of Dubai Mall, and Ain Dubai, a doppelganger for the London Eye with sweeping views across the city’s skyline.
And there’s no denying the beauty and awe of the Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world.
I could scarcely believe its epic size as I stood looking up in awe, neckache and all, at the 2,716ft tower.
We stayed at the 5 star Meydan Hotel, which offers stunning views of the racecourse and is a tranquil escape from downtown Dubai, where most of the action is.
Its rooftop infinity pools including an adult-only one, complete with swim-up bar, make it a great spot for sun worshipers wanting to soak up the rays with an icy beer in hand — although there is also a kiddies’ splash area.
But a sip of beer is still not to be taken lightly in Dubai.
Alcohol is banned from all public areas so you’d be hard pushed to find it on an evening stroll.
Instead, sundowners must be carefully planned to ensure you get to a licensed hotel bar or restaurant.
Fortunately Dubai boasts some of the grandest, most lavish hotels on Earth, so it’s no hardship.
But what locals give up in terms of an evening pint, they make up for with cigars and cigarettes.
This is a smokers’ paradise — and word of warning to families, eating outside can be a bit of a nightmare if you want to avoid inhaling tobacco smoke with your evening meal.
Beaches also aren’t the easiest to come by for young families seeking an afternoon of play, unless you are willing to fork out for a hotel with a private strip of sand.
The great advantage Dubai does have, though, is how well located it is as a holiday base — to use as a layover destination to break up longer-haul flights or to explore any of the other six emirates, all within a few hours’ drive .
Or perhaps you do fancy a gamble and want to go and cheer on the gee-gees in an impeccably glamorous setting?
Either way, if there’s one bet that’s safe to make, it’s that you’ll have a cracking holiday.
GETTING / STAYING THERE: The Meydan Hotel costs from £108 a night and has spectacular views of the racecourse.
Emirates has eight flights a day from London, with return prices starting from £499 per adult. See emirates.com/uk
OUT & ABOUT: The Dubai World Cup is held every March. For tickets and more information, visit dubairacingclub.com.
Dubai Aquarium prices start from £37pp, while Burj Khalifa tickets can be snapped up for £35pp. See visitdubai.com/en