Dubai’s $21 Million Horse Race Spurs Dress Sales, Lures Bankers
By Glen Carey

March 28 (Bloomberg) — For Maria Oustwani, Dubai’s biggest race day is more about fashion than horses.

Oustwani, a 37-year-old jeweler, spent a week looking for an outfit to wear tomorrow at the largest social event in the United Arab Emirates. She ended up paying $1,000 for a pink dress.

“You have to have the look,” said Oustwani, who searched Harvey Nichols and Saks Fifth Avenue before buying from a small boutique in the city called Sauce. “I’m super excited with my dress, now I can walk the walk and talk the talk,” she said.

Oustwani, a Syrian who’s lived in the city for a decade, will join a crowd of about 60,000 revelers at the 13th Dubai World Cup this weekend. Executives and bankers will splurge on $700 bottles of Cristal in the Bubble Lounge champagne bar as Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, ruler of Dubai, puts up $21 million in prize money, a record for any race event.

“All the people you want to meet are at this event,” said James Kinnear, chief executive officer of Canada’s Pengrowth Energy Trust, in an interview after arriving in Dubai from Calgary. “I was at the race last year and loved it, and timed my business trip to the region to coincide with it this time.” Pengrowth invests in Canadian oil and natural gas resources.

Carol Wilmot, 39, a South African living in the United Arab Emirates for the last four years, threw a buy-your-dress party for the occasion, and invited 100 women to her house to view outfits presented by Dubai-born Indian designer Jasbir Jamani.

Betting Banned

The Irish Village, the city’s best-known pub, expects to serve 10,000 pints of beer over a 25-meter bar set up at the event’s 50-acre site, said Dave Cattanach, who’ll manage the bar on the day. Alcohol retailer African and Eastern Dubai will serve more than 2,000 people in its champagne lounge overlooking the track, according to marketing manager Nickie Tilbury.

“This is our eighth year and it has been bigger and bigger every time,” Cattanach said.

Dubai has used billions of dollars in oil revenue to build a hub for finance and tourism in the Persian Gulf. The Dubai International Financial Centre, a self-regulated business park for banks and insurers, has attracted Goldman Sachs Group Inc., Citigroup Inc. and HSBC Holdings Plc, while high-purse golf and tennis events have drawn visitors to its hotels and beaches.

While cash betting at the Nad al-Sheba track is forbidden under Islamic law, the stakes are high for the breeders.

Sheikh Mohammed, who founded the race in 1996, paid $400 million just this week for Australia’s largest thoroughbred horse-breeding business and already owns the Irish Godolphin stables and stud farms in five countries. Invasor, the horse that won the main prize last year, is owned by his brother Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid al-Maktoum.

Favorite Curlin

Frankie Dettori, the Sardinia-born jockey who won all seven races on a single day at the U.K.’s Ascot in 1996, will race Sheikh Mohammed’s horse, Jalil. The prize for that race alone is $6 million, organizers say.

“When you have $6 million at stake, the race becomes pretty damn competitive as Dubai attracts all the best horses,” said Dettori in an interview. He will be chasing his fourth World Cup victory.

Curlin, majority-owned by California vintner Jess Jackson‘s Stonestreet Stables, is the favorite. The four-year-old colt won six of the last nine starts, reaping more than $5 million, according to the National Thoroughbred Racing Association. Japan’s Vermillion and Premium Tap, owned by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, will attempt to upset the odds.

“Curlin is a monster,” Alastair Donald, the managing director of Newmarket, U.K.-based International Racing Bureau Ltd., said in an interview overlooking the race track. “He was awesome last year and is the horse to beat.”

Dress Stakes

In 1997, unexpected rain forced the Saturday race to be canceled as three feet of water flooded the track. In response, military helicopters from the U.A.E. air force were deployed, using their propellers to dry the track for four straight days. The race was held the following Thursday.

“It is the most important sporting event in the Persian Gulf,” Donal Kilalea, chief executive officer of Dubai-based Promoseven Sports Marketing said in an interview. “The race attracts the best horses and is watched all over the world.”

While the Dubai race event is the richest, the Kentucky Derby in the U.S. draws more spectators. It attracted 157,000 people last year, its third-largest crowd.

Away from the horses, the 2008 World Cup Burjuman Style Stakes gives women the chance to flaunt their style in four competitions with a total purse value of $20,000. The winning dress gets $7,000 and the best hat wins $4,000.

“Women prepare for months in advance,” said Dina Saleh, a partner in Sauce, which owns four boutique clothing stores across the U.A.E. and has sold out of dresses. “Our sales are up as much as a 30 percent. You can’t get a hat or a dress in Dubai today.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Glen Carey in Dubai at [email protected]


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