The distinctive features of horse racing in the United Arab Emirates were showcased at the running of the Dubai World Cup on Saturday 29 March 2008.
Richest Horse Race
For a country that lusts after world records, it is no surprise that the Dubai Cup (the red ribbon event) is ‘the richest horse race in the world’. The prize of $6 million was part of a total $21 million at stake in prize money.
Not a Good Bet!
There is no betting at horse races as gambling is illegal in the Emirates. But gambling was not entirely non-existent as race goers could buy raffle tickets, at Dh500 a pop, to win the latest Bentley Continental or they could gamble Dh50 to win a Range Rover.
Check out the score card to see the international range of horses, trainers and jockeys for the gold ribbon event, Race 7—the Dubai World Cup Emirates Airline. The hot favorite, ‘Curlin’, the Horse of the Year in the USA, won the race, leaving all others in the dust. Many locals were backing ‘Jalil’ from Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid al Maktoum’s Goldolphin stable but this horse only managed seventh place.
Horse racing is merely the sideshow to the more prominent fashion competitions. The contestants were not all wearing black abayas and burqas. There was a range of fashion garments on the catwalk and at a fashion curtain raiser earlier this month several women paraded in trendy, ornate abayas, not the plain ‘body bag’ design. In a culture where most national women are veiled and dressed in black and expats and tourists are expected to be dressed discretely, at the racetrack the legs, shoulders and plunging necklines were proudly displayed.
While gambling is banned at a Dubai Race meet, alcohol flows freely around the track. Even last year when the Dubai Derby coincided with the Prophet’s birthday, a special dispensation was given to allow the sale and consumption of alcoholic beverages. While race events in the Emirates can proceed without betting they cannot proceed well without race goers being able to imbibe from the magnums of fine champagne.
The Weather and the Track
The weather is always hot in the Emirates and the track is hard. The harsh conditions led several horses to break down in the lead up to the carnival this year. Top South African trainer, Mike de Kock, took to putting his horses on treadmills instead of exercising them on the track. Perhaps this was the reason why so many of the South African horses did so well.
Changing Face of UAE
This racing carnival reaches back to the traditional Arab horsemen but it also illustrates yet another way that the UAE is being changed by globalization. The more liberal approach to alcohol consumption and dress recognizes the way that conservative Islamic customs are not being strictly applied, especially to those who do not adhere to the faith. It may, however, be only a matter of time until betting is allowed on race courses in the UAE so that race goers can have a flutter.
Dr. Geoff Pound
Image: Curlin takes the biggest prize.
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