03/25/2008 11:00PM

Nearby blast creates surreal scene


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Just after 7 a.m. on Wednesday, at Godolphin's Al Quoz training center, horses were being shown to the assembled media at Godolphin's annual open house, held each Dubai World Cup week. The training center, which houses some of the most expensive horses in the world during the winter, is manicured, pristine, and tranquil. The horses are galloped or jogged one by one in front of a small grandstand, and as they go past, racing manager Simon Crisford tells who they are, what they have done, and speaks of future plans.

Quite suddenly Wednesday, in the midst of Crisford's narration, there was a tremendous boom from somewhere behind the grandstand. As curious open-house attendees craned to see what had caused the noise, a thick, billowing plume of black smoke rose high into the air, not more than a mile or two away from the training center.

It was a strange, eerie scene that turned more bizarre in the next half-hour. The explosion and resulting fire were far enough away from Godolphin's base to cause nothing worse than a distraction, but as Crisford, jockeys Frankie Dettori and Kerrin McEvoy, and trainer Saeed bin Suroor sat at a table in crisp blue Godolphin attire, fielding questions from the audience, small scraps of paper and ash began to float down. Crisford plucked one from the air, rubbed it to test its content, and shook his head. This was not part of the morning's agenda.

Soon, reports came out that a fireworks warehouse in the industrial Al Quoz district had exploded, triggering a series of smaller explosions. The resulting fire has been described as the largest in Dubai's history, spread smoke across the entire city, and still was burning as night fell here. As of Wednesday evening, two people were reported killed, and two injured.

Doctor Dino's travels aren't over

Paris today, Singapore tomorrow. Chicago and Long Island in summer, merry England in autumn. How about a stop in Hong Kong? And later, we will see you in Dubai.

Such has been the last year in the life of a horse named Doctor Dino, and those destinations do not include a recent stay at home in France, where Doctor Dino did most of his preparation for Saturday night's $5omillion Dubai Sheema Classic here at Nad Al Sheba.

"He's accumulated more air miles than any horse in the world, I'd think," trainer Richard Gibson said this week.

Doctor Dino was a nice horse back home, Group 3-placed in 2005, and a Group 3 winner in 2006. But with age, and a switch to the international circuit, Doctor Dino has grown much greater. In 2007, he won two major races, the Grade 1 Man o' War at Belmont and the Groupo1 Hong Kong Vase in December at Sha Tin, and finished third in his four other starts - including the Arlington Million - all Group or Grade 1s.

"He has an amazing work ethic," Gibson said. "He loves what he does. He's a very receptive horse to train, and I think he's unique in his appetite for work. For a 6-year-old horse, you'd expect him to get a little sour, but in Hong Kong they called him the dressage horse - he showboats."

According to Gibson, getting away from Europe can aid Doctor Dino, at least in longer races. The softer, undulating courses back home are more demanding than at other venues Doctor Dino has visited. The 1 1/2-mile Sheema Classic, at least on the Nad Al Sheba course, is within Doctor Dino's scope.

"On the flat track, I don't have a stamina question with him," Gibson said. "On a European track, an uphill track, I still have questions."

That's why American racing fans are likely to get another look at Doctor Dino this summer. A close third in the Arlington Million before winning at Belmont, Doctor Dino could aim for similar races again.

"He gets off the plane, and he's ready to go," said Gibson.

New track rises in the desert

In Dubai, they do not do things small. The world's tallest man-made structure, the Burj Dubai, rises to a terrifying height on the Dubai skyline, crowned somewhere near the heavens by two cranes, as construction on the building continues. Right outside the Nad Al Sheba grandstand, another immense creation is rising out of the desert: Meydan, the racetrack that will replace Nad Al Sheba, supposedly in time for the 2010 racing season here.

Meydan plans were unveiled to great fanfare the day before last year's World Cup, and ground was broken on the site not long after. The project, when complete, will include the most impressive racetrack in the world - and much more.

Less than two miles from the track, a new city - Meydan City - will be constructed out of whole cloth. Where sand sits now, enough low, mid-, and high-rise buildings to house between 60,000 and 100,000 people will one day stand. The city will be connected to the racetrack - which also will house a luxury hotel and a museum - by means of a canal, yet to be dug out of the Dubai desert.

Construction of the Meydan grandstand - all 75 million square feet and one kilometer of it - is well under way, with 18 gigantic tower cranes and 4,500 workers toiling throughout scorching days on the project. When work gets rolling on a 10,000-space, falcon-shaped parking lot - topped with solar panels - some 7,500 souls from China, south Asia, and Pacific Island nations will be employed.

The Meydan track surface will be synthetic, not dirt, and will be oval-shaped, not irregularly configured like the current track. An 8 3/4-furlong main track will sit inside a 1 1/2-mile turf course. And all will be ready in December 2009.

The launch of Meydan, however, means the end of Nad Al Sheba. A day after the 2009 World Cup, demolition of the current plant will begin, unfolding side-by-side with the construction of a racing venue like no one has never seen.