Ever wondered what the Dubai World Cup is like?

Written by Ana, Milliner at Ana Bella Millinery and co hosted blog with
Milano Imai Racing Fashion Community

Have you ever entered a Fashions on the Field event in another country?

I think it would be so interesting to see how the racing style, competition and overall feeling of the race day differs to Australia. (Plus, it’s a pretty good excuse to explore another part of the world.)

Photo courtesy of "visit Dubai"

One of the bigger overseas events that is coming up is the Dubai World Cup, which this year will be held on Saturday 31st March.

I’m curious to know what it’s like, so today I’m inviting Ana, Milliner and stylist from Ana Bella Millinery to share her tips and advice for attending the event.

Ana has had a succession of wins over the past few years at the Dubai World Cup, (winner of Best Dressed Lady, Most Elegant Lady and Best Hat) and will be one of the judges at this year’s event, so she’s the perfect person to fill us in.

About Ana

Ana is an Australian Milliner and owner of Ana Bella Millinery; her studio is based in London. The milliner is well known for her award winning mirror designs internationally.

She has worked with renowned stylist Gok Wan, shown during London Fashion week, London Hat Week, featured in Vogue, Grazia, Hello Magazine and placing in the top ten at the Melbourne Cup Millinery award three years running.

The current Ana Bella Millinery collection is stocked in the UK’s leading online Millinery website “Lovehats.com”, the USA at Shapoh hats, at the “Eternal Headonist” in Australia, as well as taking bespoke orders for events such as the Dubai world cup.

The following has been written from Ana's experiences at the Dubai World Cup.


Why Dubai???

My love affair with the Dubai World Cup started when a stranger at Magic Millions (Australia) said to me “that outfit would do well in Dubai”…

I had just walked off the stage of the final top ten fashions at Magic Millions wearing my own design spike hat with acrylic gold flower, light green and gold floral print 30’s style fitted dress. This was back in early 2015 when I was working from my millinery studio in Cairns QLD.

I had no idea that racing fashion was even something they did in Dubai, how strange I thought. As a keen traveller it made me very curious.

That evening- I researched Dubai, the fashions, the races, the prizes, and costs to see if it was even possible…. all answers led to “yes!! why not…have an adventure and get immersed in a totally different culture!!”.

A week later, in early January, I booked my flights and accommodation to Dubai. I took two weeks off from work so I could make the most of travelling around Dubai seeing the sights.

I’m a seasoned traveller and have made my own way travelling around the world, but this trip, I was to be accompanied by my now fiancé Anthony.

I organised a few basic things before I went over to Dubai, flights, our hotel and Dubai World Cup tickets.dubai world cup fashion at the races

I found out that the racetrack is pretty much in the desert, outside of the main city, so I made plans for our hotel to be in a more accessible part of town, next to a beach and not too far from the racetrack.

I packed my fashions outfit in my carry on bag, as well as my hat that I had to deconstruct due to the size of it, and put it back to together when I got to Dubai, just in case my bags get lost.

I also booked my flights a few days ahead of the world cup- just in case of flight delays. After all the money I spent on flights, hotels, tickets I didn’t want anything to ruin our adventure and miss the World Cup all together due to flight delays.

On my first trip to Dubai, we didn’t know anyone, I had no idea what I was doing, where I was going or what to expect. I just knew a few cultural rules of the country, I had to wear modest clothing, not show any public displays of affection in public, even holding my partners hand was off limits.

When you get to Dubai, you realise that some of these rules are not adhered to, but the further out you go, to more local places, these rules are quite strict. Just as a precaution I always note these rules when I’m in Dubai.

The day of the Dubai World Cup was very busy, I had booked a hotel which happened to have a hair salon downstairs in the Lobby- this reduced travel time and potentially getting lost not knowing my way around. I have always done my own makeup and try to book hair salons ahead of time using Facebook messenger to contact salons in Dubai to avoid time differences.

Another tip… one that we found out the hard way – men are not usually allowed into the hair salons in Dubai, my Fiancé was glared at and escorted out in a rush from one of the Salons when he accompanied me inside…. oooops! Dubai have separate men and women’s salons and the opposite sex is never allowed to enter. Some hotels with salons attached are more westernised and not as strict.

While in the hair salon attached to my hotel, I crossed my fingers, and gave my hair guy a photo of a hairdo I had on Pinterest. 40 minutes later, my luck, he made a lovely twisted style up do!

I went back upstairs, and enjoyed my favourite part of the day, getting dressed in my fabulous hat, and outfit I had travelled with all the way from Australia.

Meydan Hotel is the longest hotel in the world, which lines the racetrack for the Dubai World Cup. I would suggest taking a taxi on the day, as the traffic and parking can be hectic in a foreign country, especially driving on the wrong side of the road.

Dubai races accommodation

After entering the racetrack, I had tickets for Apron Views area, I signed up to be part of the fashions competition at the administration desk, and then I had a bit of time to walk around. The day was long, and all the categories had heats to get through over 600 international contestants.

Fashion Categories

These are the categories from 2017, which you can enter in on the day, and some will allow you to pre-enter on the Dubai World Cup website. I’m not sure if you are able to enter into several categories or just one, you can check with administration on the day.

In previous years, they have also had Longines Most Elegant Lady, although this wasn’t a category in 2017.

I met contestants from Ireland, Australia, UK, Russia, and from all over the UAE. The competition was tough with many amazing and glamorous looking outfits from all over the world.

You never really know what the judges are looking for, but I just hoped to stand out among the crowd. Thinking back, my spike hat is what made my outfit stand out to the judges, it was the second outing for my “spike hat” after the Gold Coast and it was getting so much attention even before I went on stage because it was something no body had ever seen.

Fashion at Dubai World Cup

Mindset; having no expectations is the best way to approach most of the fashion competitions, then you don’t get upset if you don’t get anywhere with your style. You never really know what the judges are looking for. Just be confident and happy, enjoy your company and the experience, and best of all, enjoy your outfit, it’s not everyday you get to wear a hat and dress up as extravagantly to the races.

The fashions are run in heats, and I had entered the Best Dressed, and Best Hat category. From about 20 heats in each category I made it to the top ten finals of each, which in itself was pretty amazing, I thought.

By the end of the day, in 2015 I won the category Longines Most Elegant Lady with my spike hat and light green vintage inspired outfit, judged by a panel of professional judges.

I won a timeless Longines watch, silver, with a face lined with diamonds, presented by the famous Longines ambassadors that I still smile at each time I wear it out on special occasions, and to the races.

The Prizes

Each year the sponsors and prizes have changed. See above, in the category section the prizes for each. Some prizes are only redeemable in the United Arab Emirates, such as beauty and hair packages. So you will need the time to be there to use them, or as I have done given them away to friends who live there.

I have won some great prizes that I have been able to take home, like a mobile phone, my Longines watch, hotel stays, which I use when I get back to Dubai, and hair and make up prizes. I am waiting to come back to Dubai in 2018 in March to use my Top Shop voucher, as it is only redeemable in the UAE.

On the Day of the Dubai World Cup

Gates open at noon

Sign up for fashions before deadline cut off time otherwise you miss out (check these times on website when they are released)

Be at your category call time with your number to be presented to judges on stage

Horse racing starts at 3.45pm

The evening concert is an amazing display, fireworks and a grand performance by a major artist usually follows. In the past it has been Kylie Minogue, Janet Jackson and Sia.

Generally there are about 15 contestants in a heat on stage, where the judges pick finalists.

At the end of the heats, either your number will be called on the stage and asked to be held back and continue to the next round, or numbers of finalists will be called at the end of viewing the entire category and heats. Each year has been different. But each year they always have at least 300 contestants in category, so it’s tough out there ladies!

Because of the heat in Dubai, the horse racing starts later in the day, scheduled for 2018 at about 3.45pm, on World Cup day. See the 2017 Style Stakes schedule below.

What’s the Fashion like?

The Dubai World Cup Fashions attracts racing fashion and racing enthusiasts from all around the world. The result is a mix of fashion, from the very traditional British wide brimmed racing hats to a lot of ball gown and evening wear worn to the race track and everything in between.

It is not unusual to see a lady without a hat, those who aren’t used to wearing one, but there is certainly an effort made to dress up.

In 2017 there was a rule guideline introduced for the racing fashion competition, it included such rules as; dresses need to be of modest length, but not ball gown, hats must be worn and straps wider than 2 cm which are similar rules to Royal Ascot.

Dubai World Cup 2017 fashion Judges, and style partners

These were some but not all of the rules. You would be best to do your own research for 2018 when they release the guide as that may be changed.

The day ended with fireworks, Kylie Minogue in full concert singing and dancing on a stage at the end of the track with thousands of racegoers. It was a spectacular day, lots of fun, with new friends made.

Photo Courtesy of Getty Images

If you get a chance, have a look at the main entrance of the Meydan Hotel, which lines the track. This is adorned with beautiful real flowers and orchids, displays, exhibits, statues and is one of the most beautiful hotel lobbies I have ever seen. You may even want to book to stay at the hotel during the world cup.

I spent the rest of my holiday travelling around Dubai… my favourite tour was the Cultural Centre, sitting down and having a cultural meal with Emiratis (pronounced emy-rah-teez), which is what you call the local people who live in Dubai. I would highly recommend that as part of your trip if you have time.

I also drove around the sand dunes in 4 wheel drives, dressed in traditional clothing and smoked some shishas in tents, rode on camels and went to Atlantis, a giant water park. It was truly an unforgettable holiday and experience I highly recommend.

2016 couldn’t keep me away from Dubai; there were plenty of friends and clients that had decided to attend the Dubai World Cup. I entered the “the Best Hat Category”, out of over 600 entrants on the day, and a completely different judging panel than the year before so you can be rest assured it’s an even playing field, and to my surprise I won.

Ana Bella Millinery wins Best Hat 2016 at Dubai World Cup.

The cherry on top of my win was that a client of mine (white dress in photo above) had placed as the “runner up best dressed Lady” and it was great watching her on stage.

Winner runner up Best Dressed Lady wearing Ana Bella Millinery 2016

I won’t bore you with more details, but in 2017 I flew from London to Dubai and entered into the “Best Dressed Lady category”, one which I had never been successful in.

Again a different judging panel, this time 6 judges were appointed and a new set of rules were introduced about attire and the judging (see above). I could see them having a very hard decision at the end of who was going to win the final prize. They announced I won the title of “Best Dressed Lady” in 2017.

Tickets :

I have always bought Apron View tickets, this enables you to go out to see the racetrack, go in to the fashions area, and also able to go to an eatery.

There are other ticket packages, but on racing fashion day I have always just needed access to Fashions and nothing else. I have bought them online, and picked them up at the racetrack in Meydan, which is about half an hour away from Dubai Palm or main tourist district.

Flying/Accommodation Tips

  • I have flown Malaysia air, Qantas, British airways and Emirates. I have always tried to find a good flight deal early, the earlier you book the better it is.
  • The Cup is held on school holidays in Dubai, and also over the Easter Long Weekend, so flights and accommodation gets expensive at this time of year in Dubai.
  • If you take a flight other than Emirates be prepared to wait for customs to process your passport, each time I have gone I have waited hours at the end of my flight to be processed. Its just the way it is, I think Emirates flights must get priority and don’t have to wait.
  • I have stayed in hotels probably averaging $130 AU a night, and also at an airBnB in 2017, which was great, we got to meet a local expat who was living in Dubai.
  • I have friends who have rented entire apartments for their stay and it’s worked well for them.

Cultural Tips

When you are visiting malls in Dubai, which is a must, I have always worn covered and modest clothing. Actually this just goes with everywhere I visited Dubai. Some malls it states this on the doors before you go inside. Clothes covering just over your knee and long sleeves. The more touristy areas are a bit more relaxed, but if you were to visit cultural centres, malls and more community areas like Old Dubai Markets, I would always suggest modest clothing.

If you are going to the beach, or a swim at your hotel, everyone wears a two-piece bikini or whatever you like it is very relaxed- Dubai have become quite accommodating to the western culture and a tourist hot spot. If you are unsure, bring a sarong with you, so you can cover up if needed.

I do not hold hands or kiss my partner in public, as I have been told public displays of affection are not allowed.

Other General Tips

  • Download a map that you can use “offline” (without internet) on your phone of Dubai. It will be very helpful if you don’t plan on paying roaming charges.
  • I would take a taxi to the racetrack… they are quite cheap and unless you have hired a car, you can park, but will have to walk a while to the track, through car parks and rocky grounds.
  • Your ticket will dictate what entrance you will enter through, gates A, B C etc.…
  • Once you have entered Meydan, sign up to your Fashion category, before a certain time period cuts off entries.
  • Administrations desks and fashion flags will be up just inside or outside in the apron views area so you will be able to see where to sign up as you walk in.


  • Look at the Dubai World Cup Website for schedule times for the Fashion Competition- don’t miss your sign up deadline
  • Stay in an air bnb if you are comfortable if will make the trip a little less expensive
  • They drive on the other side of the road, and drivers don’t often indicate. I have found it a little scary driving myself around, so I prefer to take taxis so I don’t get into trouble.
  • I haven’t needed a visa, unless you are staying for a long time. Check your local embassy for relevant Visa details.
  • Meydan Racecourse location is away from the city, so unless you are staying just for the races, you could stay at Meydan Hotel and be right on the trackside, or you could stay near the more tourist areas like, the Palm.. you can find more infomation about Dubai on "visit Dubai website".

Hope to see you in Dubai!