Saturday, December 19, 2009

And down the stretch they come ...

If you can't bet on it, is it still horse racing?

Well, sure it is, technically. At the Abu Dhabi Equestrian Club, the horses still come out of the gate and thunder around the track and the fans cheer and the winning jockey pumps his fist as he crosses the finish line. For those two minutes, you might as well be at Churchill Downs. Okay, maybe Tampa Bay Downs.

But I must say, the chance to win a microwave oven just isn't as exciting as trying to cash a big trifecta ticket for cold hard cash.

Gambling is illegal in the UAE, but the several hundred people who come out for the weekly six-race card can win prizes for picking the top three horses in each contest. Microwaves, dishwashers, air conditioners and the like are on display in front of the grandstand, ready to go home with the lucky winners.

One of the first things you notice when walking into the track is that there's no tote board. In its place is a large video screen, which comes in handy. The 10-furlong track is so big -- there's a nine-hole golf course in the infield -- it's impossible to see the first half of races with the naked eye because the horses start so far away.

The only information on display is on a wooden results board beside the parade ring, where the numbers of the top four finishers in each race are hung by a worker climbing atop a riser. The Green Monster scoreboard at Fenway Park is a technological marvel compared to this thing.

It's a small grandstand, made smaller by the fact that the center section and upper levels arereserved for owners and trainers and their guests. Everyone else sits off to the sides; there is two sections with hard plastic seats and another with simple concrete risers.

Admission is free, and so are the programs. The crowd is almost all male, but there are a few women and children. There's an open grassy area where people picnic and small kids boot around a soccer ball. People watch the races intently and cheer loudly for their favorites, even without wagering. It's almost as if we're all there as extras in a movie, providing background color and noise so the sheikhs don't have to watch their horses race in silence.

1 comment:

  1. Nice description, sweets -- especially the Green Monster reference...HAH! :)