Monday 18 Jan 2021 | 19:33 | SYDNEY
Monday 18 Jan 2021 | 19:33 | SYDNEY

Horse racing: Sport of kings, emirs, sultans, prime ministers and ayatollahs


Rodger Shanahan


4 November 2011 16:01

While most people are aware of the camel racing scene in the Arab world, in honour of Melbourne Cup week I thought it only appropriate to shine a light on the horse racing scene. 

Horse racing is not a big crowd-puller in the Middle East, but it has more of a following than some may give it credit for. People know that Dubai (through Emirates Airline) sponsors the Melbourne Cup and that the Maktoum family are giants of the racing game. But every time I go to Beirut I love going past the Hippodrome, the Flemington of the Levant. I haven't yet had a day at the races, but driving past on race day while keen punters gain vantage points outside the track on whatever high ground they can find is one of my favourite Beirut scenes.

The more I looked into it, the more I learnt how active the scene actually was. There are two tracks in Saudi Arabia, and four in Egypt. Bahrain has a club, as does Oman and Qatar.  Even the Baghdad track is still alive and making something of a comeback.

But wait, there’s more. Across the Gulf, even the Iranians are into it. This article outlines what to expect, although I would hazard a guess that 'fashions in the field' is a bit more restrained than in Melbourne. Flexibility in religious interpretation has allowed the tote to replace 'bets and winnings' with 'predictions and prizes'. 

Whoever was giving out 'prizes' after the Melbourne Cup on Tuesday must have missed me out.

Photo by Flickr user delboy1203.