What does one do at a racecourse besides the obvious activity of watching horses run toward an oatmeal bag at the end of a line?
Gamble of course. But how can one indulge in speculative behavior in a Muslim country? Surely it is un-Islamic.
At the same time, in a country which aims to attract powerful corporate investments while attending to a majority foreign population, compromises and the manoeuvring of technicalities are abound.
This is why alcohol is not consumed publicly, but they flow generously in private occasions. Modesty in dressing does not apply to the beaches in Dubai, or at least not to the many Russians and British sunning themselves silly on the sand. Lines have been crossed as seen in the arrest of a British couple caught fornicating on the beach in Dubai a while back. Nevertheless, Dubai is largely tolerant of infidel behavior.
Still, I remain impressed (used loosely here) by the way UAE businessmen have managed to indulge in luxuries of their non-Islamic counterparts while keeping to the minimum of Shariah law.
One evening, I was in the recently opened Dubai’s Meydan Racecourse, commissioned by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum. The Telegraph has commented that the size of Dubai’s Meydan Racecourse made the British Ascot Racecourse look small. Indeed Meydan looked like any major Dubai structure: massive, shiny and under-populated.
I was given a racing card and a pencil. No money was deposited or ticket exchanged for my mare of choice. Rather, I was told to fill in my predictions for wins, if I won them seven times in a row, I’d win some money. So no gambling, just an overelaborated equine lucky draw. Brilliant.
Of course, while VIP guests dined on unkosher food and wine in the luxurious corporate suites 5 storeys up, I wandered down to the public space, filled with local residents itching for a win. Well, not really local, but they are predominantly male and from everywhere: India (Mumbai, Kochi, South Kerala, Hyderabad), Pakistan (Peshawar, Kashmir), Somalia, Sudan, Egypt (“Don’t talk to me about Mubarak, the race has started.”). Whole families tend to be from Australia, UK and America.
A man from Kashmir pointed out in a race guide and explained why Number 3 was going to win (it didn’t), followed by Number 7 (ditto). I think he should stick to his day job as a construction manager. Another man from Sudan sprawled himself on a large prayer mat, texting furiously with his bookie, possibly. In another corner, a group of elderly men drank tea on the grass, waiting for the next race to begin. Few held racing cards and instead pieces of paper with elaborate predictions.