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Despite Dubai’s fast cars and 12-lane highways, the Arabic passion for all things horse related is alive and well, so it should be no surprise that the highlight of the city’s horse racing calendar – the Dubai World Cup – is also the world’s most expensive race.

A prize of $10 million awaits the winner of the final race on 30 March, making it the most lucrative 10 furlongs (2,000m) in the world. First held at the now-disused Nad Al Sheba racecourse 18 years ago, the races were moved in 2010 to the new Meydan Grandstand, where the horses now run on tapeta (all weather turf) instead of dirt. With more than 270 applications this year, the racing club is currently narrowing down the field to the final 16; those in the know are watching Royal Delta and Monterosso as key contenders.

The Dubai World Cup is also an annual highlight of the city’s spring social season, a Middle Eastern version of Britain’s Royal Ascot where it is as much about the hats as it is the horses. Thanks to the impressive best-dressed competitions for men, woman and couples, the style stakes are always high with locals planning their outfits months in advance.

While betting is illegal in the United Arab Emirates, several of the city’s more established bars, such as the Irish Village, set up pop-up versions in the stadium, and a variety of VIP/Champagne lounges spring up overnight for those lucky enough to be offered corporate hospitality. Although the post-race entertainment is still a secret, past performers have included Elton John and Sting. 

General admission, which offers views of the races, access to the pubs, restaurants and style competitions, is 350 dirhams, while a package including a four-course meal and unlimited house drinks costs 450 dirhams. The event is a sell-out every year, so book tickets well in advance.

Georgina Wilson-Powell is the Dubai Localite for BBC Travel. She also writes the hotel review blog sogoodtogetoutofthecity.wordpress.com.

Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated the prize amount as $1 million. This has now been corrected.

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