03/23/2009 11:00PM

New complex said to be on schedule


DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - Meydan, the colossal racing and entertainment facility under construction just yards away from Nad Al Sheba Racetrack, will be completed not just in time for the 2010 Dubai World Cup, but in time for the usual November opening of the Dubai racing season, the Emirates Racing Club's CEO, Frank Gabriel, said Tuesday.

Grass already is sprouting in what will be the chute of a 12-furlong turf course, inside of which will sit the main track. But what material will constitute that track remains undecided, Gabriel said. The new training track that opened last Friday is made from the all-weather Tapeta surface, which also is used at two local training centers. But exactly what the $10 million 2010 World Cup will be run over won't be decided for perhaps another month, according to Gabriel.

The Meydan project hit a bump in January, when the Meydan developers canceled a reported $1.25 billion contract with a joint venture between the Malaysian engineering firm WCT Berhad and the Dubai construction conglomerate Arabtec. WCT Berhad announced on Feb. 26 that the two companies have initiated a civil suit and arbitration proceedings against the Meydan developers over the contract cancellation.

Gabriel helps oversee the Meydan racetrack project - which is part of a much larger planned city in the desert - but has nothing to do with project contracts, and could not discuss the January contract cancellation. After the cancellation, Meydan issued a statement to the local publication Construction Week saying that the contractors had fallen behind schedule. Earlier this month, MEED, a London-based Middle Eastern business publication, reported that a Chinese firm, China State Construction Engineering Corp., and locally based Mammut Building Systems had been contracted to complete the work.

Gabriel said that work on the racetrack "never stopped" this winter.

"We kept up the pace," said Gabriel. "Our goal has been the World Cup 2010. That's been our goal all along, and it still is."

The five-furlong-long Meydan grandstand has been transformed from a bare superstructure to a building bearing its final shape since the 2008 World Cup. Glass has been installed in several areas, and the 70-suite hotel on the building's west end does not seem far from completion, at least on its facade. When finished, the grandstand will house several restaurants, food courts, and a marina within some 75 million square feet of space.

Sitting in the shadow of this growing gargantuan is 15-year-old Nad Al Sheba Racecourse, which never seemed especially large, but now appears minute compared to its hulking neighbor.

"This track fit at that time," said Gabriel. "You look back then, it was nothing but desert all around."

But Nad Al Sheba is not long for this world. The new Meydan racing ovals will be constructed where Nad Al Sheba currently sits, and within 10 days after Saturday's races, the current facility will start coming down.

Cumani reshapes Purple Moon

The latest incarnation of the 6-year-old gelding named Purple Moon? Major player in the $5 million Sheema Classic at 1 1/2 miles on turf here Saturday night.

But 12-furlong flat horse is only the latest guise worn by Purple Moon. Trained at the start of his racing career in 2006 by Michael Stoute, Purple Moon showed only modest ability in six English flat starts, and he was purchased late that year by current owner Craig Bennett as a jumping prospect. Purple Moon became a jumper early the next year, but after two races going two miles at Musselburgh, Purple Moon's hurdling career came to an abrupt end, as well.

"He didn't take to it, so he was sent to me," said current trainer Luca Cumani.

Purple Moon came to Cumani only a maiden winner on the flat, and Cumani took advantage of favorable weighting during the summer of 2007 to win the $369,500 Ebor Handicap in August at York. Still more ambitious plans were in the works. When Purple Moon next showed up at the races, it was at Caulfield in Australia, where he was sixth in the Group 1 Caulfield Handicap. The Caulfield Cap, however, was a mere prep for the famed two-mile Melbourne Cup about two weeks later, and there, Purple Moon finished second, beaten just a half-length in a 21-horse field.

"He's not really a two-mile horse," said Cumani. "The way the Melbourne Cup is, you can take a mile-and-a-half horse and get the distance."

Cumani, born in Italy but long based in England, has won races all over the world, including the 1994 Breeders' Cup Mile with Barathea. His last Breeders' Cup starter was Starcraft, who finished seventh in the 2005 Breeders' Cup Classic. A couple of months later, Cumani won the Japan Cup with Alkaased, and last fall, in a second trip to Australia, he sent Bauer out to the narrowest of losses in the Melbourne Cup.

All of which is reason to take Purple Moon seriously in the Sheema Classic, which has been the horse's target since he traveled to the Far East late last fall. An unlucky sixth in the Japan Cup, Purple Moon missed by a whisker to fellow Sheema Classic pre-entry Doctor Dino in the Hong Kong Vase on Dec. 14. He was fourth of 16 here earlier this month in the Dubai City of Gold, but that race was only a prep for Saturday's main event.

"He's probably improved three or four lengths since then," said Cumani, who also will send out the improving Presvis in the $5 million Duty Free.

Albertus Maximus looks comfortable

Albertus Maximus, probably the most highly regarded of the four U.S.-based World Cup hopefuls, has settled nicely into his Dubai surroundings since shipping last week from Florida. His main work done before departure, Albertus Maximus is expected only to gallop here in the days leading to the World Cup.

"He can be a little aggressive, but he's settled in very well here," said exercise rider Rob Massey.

Trainer Kiaran McLaughlin was expected to arrive here Tuesday and be at Nad Al Sheba on Wednesday morning.

Albertus Maximus is one of 14 likely starters in the $6 million World Cup. The other pre-entries are Anak Nakal, Arson Squad, Asiatic Boy, Casino Drive, Gloria de Campeao, Happy Boy, Joe Louis, Muhannak, Muller, My Indy, Paris Perfect, Snaafy, and Well Armed.