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Larkhill or Meydan? No contest!

I recently returned from a short break in Dubai, where my eldest son is on a placement with Meydan Racecourse as part of the innovative and well perceived Darley Flying Start graduate scheme.

Of course, there's no Jump racing in the desert - an immediate drawback, although it appears camel racing is as popular, if not more so, than Thoroughbred Flat racing.

Camels at exercise on the long extended racing surface. Some circuits are nearly 10 miles long

Meydan is a tribute to Sheikh Mohammed's determination to make Dubai a destination venue for all sport. In the space of less than a month in March, you would have been able to see Roger Federer play tennis, cricket in the Pakistan Super League, and at the end of this month, the richest race day in the world - the Dubai World Cup, worth £12m.

Meydan has had no expense spared in its ascent from sandy desert to a magnificent grandstand, the largest big screen you ever saw, and watered lawns, with not a blade of grass out of place on the turf itself. If you love racing in its purest form, on turf or sand, this is for you.

However, it lacks the cosy charm of an old-fashioned steeplechase fixture like the Avon Vale at Larkhill, and the communities of spectators who congregate to race their horses or assess others in pursuit of a winning bet. Where once the good people of Dubai gathered in souks to barter and exchange goods with friends, contemporaries and tourists, now these are solely for this last group and more cynical for it. The British calendar acts in many instances as a surrogate market day to replace that day when country (and urban) folk would gather to buy and sell produce, and in between, to put the world to rights with friends or acquaintances. No such relationship exists in this desert panacea.

Betting and alcohol are not allowed in Muslim countries, and although Dubai is quite liberal in its interpretation of this, in order to accommodate Westerners, this means that the grandstand is full of Arabs and immigrant Pakistanis, Iranians and Indians, all working through their legitimate Pick 6 lotto, with not a beer in site! Anathema to a British spectator!

All is not lost though. A central bar accommodates Western ex-pats and visiting owners with drinks at eye-watering prices, although admission to most racedays is totally free.

Where Britain (and Ireland) still excel, is in not having thrown away the unique ambiance that comes with a sport of over 180 years heritage, since the first Grand Annual Chase launched the big race atmosphere at Andoversford in 1834. You can throw a lot of money at something, and still not buy yourself heritage and history.

Which is not to admire the achievement of creating a beautiful floodlit turf course in a desert where summer temperatures hit 50 degrees C. Meydan is simply spectacular, but it lacks an energy that we take for granted at every British fixture, even the most lowly.

The fusion of gambling, drink and good company is very potent, and when two of these three are missing, at least in part, then the entertainment is not quite so sweet.

Will Meydan have that selfsame heritage and history a century from now? Who knows... The way Dubai is expanding, it's sure to have an audience to fill the extraordinary grandstands - a tribute to concrete, steel and glass.

But would I exchange Meydan for Larkhill on a regular basis? Not a chance! Am I mad? Quite possibly!

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