THE TOP TEN High-Falutin' Horse Races
Douglas Rogers

The world's most decadent derbies

Rock stars are sipping cocktails in the stands, supermodels are getting their hair done in the Style Arena, and billionaire oil sheiks and Hollywood movie moguls are discussing last night’s lavish Bedouin soiree. Meanwhile, out on the track, the word’s fastest horses are heading to the stalls, with Dubai's hotels glimmering in the distance.

The Dubai World Cup is not only the richest horse race in the world. It is one of the most spectacular parties on Earth: a week-long, diamond-studded, jet-set affair that attracts the rich and famous from across the globe to the Arabian Gulf state. As such it is also a symbol of what horse racing has become in the 21st century. From Melbourne to Hong Kong, Dubai to Kentucky, the world’s great horse races are now just as much about the parties, the fashion, the food and the celebrities, as they are about the races themselves.

“The sport is unrecognizable from ten years ago,” said Nick Smith, head of public relations for Britain’s famous Ascot racecourse as he sipped champagne on a balcony of Dubai’s Mina a Salaam hotel, two days before this year’s Dubai World Cup...
Douglas Rogers The world's most decadent derbies Rock stars are sipping cocktails in the stands, supermodels are getting their hair done in the Style A...  more
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The Dubai World Cup

Nad Al Sheba Race Course, Dubai
March 29th, 2008With a prize of $6 million this is the richest horse race in the world, but the five races before it are worth a combined $15 million—hardly small change. The atmosphere in Dubai during the build-up is electric, with lavish parties in hotels across the city. On race day Ferraris and Rolls Royces are raffled, there are fashion shows featuring various supermodels, and Saks Fifth Avenue even offers an original Louis Feraud Hat to the best-dressed woman. This being Dubai there are no shortages of places to stay, but the 1,000-foot-tall Dhow-shaped Burj Al Arab makes Vegas’s glitziest palaces seem jaded.
 
 
 

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Epsom Derby

Epsom Downs, Epsom, Surrey, England
June 7th, 2008Established in 1780 and known simply as The Derby, the second leg of the English Triple Crown is the most prestigious event in the British racing calendar. Located less than an hour from London, it takes place on the first Saturday of June, although the fun starts on Epsom’s Ladies Day the Friday before, where local lasses parade the latest fashions and the most stylish race-goer wins the “Style on the Downs” prize. For the best seats, book tickets for the garden party on the Prince’s Lawn Pavilion adjacent to the Queen’s Stand, where you’re treated to canapés, champagne and a five-course lunch, and the dress code stipulates top hat and tails. Be sure to throw the hat in the air when your horse comes in.
 
 
 

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Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe

Longchamp Racecourse, Paris
Sunday, October 7th, 2007Up until the '30s, French high society arrived at the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe on steamboats that sailed up the Seine from Paris. These days the train gets you there much quicker, but France’s most famous race has lost none of its old-world style and glamour. Run on the first Sunday of October at Longchamp, a course set in 170 acres of rolling countryside in the Bois de Boulogne, it attracts horses from all the top international stables, and at 2400m is one of the longest of the world’s major races. A Village d’Honneur package booked through Longchamp’s Quarterback agency (+33 1 53 84 25 00) gets you access to the private glassed-in VIP Village that flanks the rails by the finish line, and with it an open-bar, five-course gourmet lunch, and private betting facilities.
 
 
 

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The Kentucky Derby

Churchill Downs, Louisville, Ky.
May 3rd, 2008Louisville becomes Carniville over Derby weekend as celebrities, sports stars and Southern patriarchs converge on Churchill Downs for the "Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sports" The first leg of the Triple Crown, the race is best enjoyed with a mint julep in hand, seated at a private table in the newly-built Millionaire’s Row on the fourth tier of the iconic twin-spires grandstand. Race tickets apart, the Barnstable Brown Gala held in the sprawling grounds of the Barnstable Mansion is the party to go to the night before, while the historic Seelbach Hotel, a favorite of Scott Fitzgerald, is the preferred hotel for legions of visiting ‘experts.’ Failing to get a room there, try the newly-opened 21C, a chic art hotel owned by an heir to Brown-Forman Co., the Kentucky bourbon dynasty.
 
 
 

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Royal Ascot

Ascot Racecourse, Berkshire, England
June 17th - 21st, 2008A major highlight on the their social calendar, the cream of English society turn up for the mid-summer Royal Ascot festival, most of them in funny hats. Established in 1711 and held over five days at Ascot course in Berkshire, a 50-minute journey from London, the racing often takes second place to the style and pageantry. Some 300,000 people attend during the week including the Royal family who arrive each day in horse-drawn carriages. You can arrive in even better style—a twin-engine helicopter—by booking the Royal Ascot-Cliveden House package through Ascot Hospitality (+44 870 727 4321), but remember to wear a full morning suit for access to the Royal Enclosure. The most prestigious race in the week is the Ascot Gold Cup held on Ladies Day Thursday.
 
 
 

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The Emirates Melbourne Cup

Flemington Racecourse, Melbourne, Australia
November 6th, 2007Australia comes to a standstill for the 145-year old social and cultural tradition that is the Melbourne Cup, run at 3:10 p.m. on the first Tuesday of every November. The four-day Melbourne Cup Carnival surrounding it is a fashion and gambling frenzy as everyone dresses to the nines and takes a flutter, many gathering at the sprawling Crown casino entertainment complex on the south bank of the Yarra River that flows through the city. 120,000 people attend the race itself, and there’s no better place to be than the Terrace Restaurant, an air-conditioned, glassed-in enclosure with each table positioned on one of six tiers elevated above the winning post, with views of the city skyline beyond. Order some bubbly and don’t stare too long at Nicole Kidman at the table next to you.
 
 
 

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St Moritz White Turf

St Moritz
10th, 17th and 24th February 2008There are few more dramatic sights in racing that that of a dozen horses galloping through blinding white snow on a track built on a frozen lake set beneath towering white-capped Alpine peaks. Welcome to the St. Moritz White Turf, a festival of races held on three consecutive Sundays in February, in the exclusive Swiss resort town. The 2000m “Grand Prix” flat race on the first Sunday, sponsored by high-end jewelers Gübelin, is the main event, although the mink-and-champagne atmosphere is just as much of a draw. Billionaire bankers, corporate CEOs and jet-set celebrities such as Liz Hurley and Claudia Schiffer, who make St. Moritz their winter home, attend the races while the town itself is alive with classical music concerts, art exhibitions and scores of après-race parties. For the heart of the jet-set action, stay at the fabulous 1896-built Badrutt’s Palace, a palatial 201-room hotel of carved ceilings, marble statues and grand baronial ballrooms.
 
 
 

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Audemars Piguet Queen Elizabeth II Cup

Sha Tin Race Course, Hong Kong
April, 2008Swiss watchmakers Audemars Piguet not only offer $2.3 million to the winner of this 2000m race, but a $1 million bonus if the winner has claimed one of the four other Hong Kong International races during the season. Small wonder Hong Kong now attracts some of the best horses, jockeys and trainers in the world. Held at the sleek Sha Tin Race Course, it’s extremely visitor friendly—tourists are able to purchase a Tourist Badge pass that gives them access to areas usually exclusive to members. Start with a cocktail at the 100-foot-long Champions Circle bar before moving onto the balcony overlooking the Parade Ring to judge the form, and then watch the race in the glass-walled Skylight Lounge overlooking the winning post. As for getting to the track, if you stay at the Peninsula Hotel they might drive you in one of the fleet of Rolls Royce’s they use to ferry guests.
 
 
 

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Budweiser Irish Derby

Curragh Racecourse, Kildare, Ireland
June 29th, 2008It may not have the cache of Epsom or the Kentucky Derby and some might think it sacrilegious in the land of Guinness to now name their top horse race after an American beer, but the passion the Irish have for the Derby and the serene setting of the Curragh course outside Dublin, make it a unique and enthralling event. Run over one mile and four furlongs, it attracts the best three-year-olds in Europe, often including the winners of the recently-run Epsom and French Derbys. For the most refined setting, you could book a table at the exclusive split-level Derby Club Room, but the place to be is among the fans in the Vintage Crop Bar under the West Stand, where traditional Irish bands entertain the crowds over pints of Guinness between races. As for lodgings, the chic Clarence Hotel in central Dublin is owned by sometime racing fans Bono and the Edge of U2.
 
 
 

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The J & B Met

Kenilworth Racecourse, Cape Town, South Africa
Between January 1st and February 2nd, 2008 (To be confirmed)Cape Town has become such a tourist hot spot and major location for international film and fashion shoots that its flagship horse race has gone into overdrive. Run over 2000m in the midst of the summer social season, the course’s setting in the foothills of Table Mountain is one of the most beautiful in the world. A Private Pavilion Package in one of the elegant white marquees on the inside track gets you a perfect view of the finish line, not to mention a table next to the local elites, among them DeBeers Diamond mining heiresses and Johannesburg gold mining magnates. Hotel-wise, book yourself into the gorgeous Provencal-style Le Quartier Français in the nearby Franschhoek wine district.
 
 
 





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