With a bit of luck, people from all walks of life enjoy the big night at Meydan Racecourse

After a walk through the Food Court on Saturday night, it was obvious: Bangladeshis, Pakistanis and Sudanese prove there is more to Dubai World Cup than high heels and top hats, writes Gary Meenaghan.

Fans react with dismay during horse races at Dubai World Cup at Meydan Racecourse in Dubai, March 28, 2015. Sarah Dea/The National
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If you dared brave the mayhem of Meydan on Saturday night, you might have entered the racecourse’s brightly lit lobby, slalomed through the hats and tails and heels and tuxedos and spied a sign reading: “Food Court”.

You might have figured such a sign incongruous with your current glamorous surroundings and figured it worth a visit, if only out of curiosity. You might, after taking the escalator downstairs, have found somewhat of an underground society.

ChicKing and KFC and Automatic Grill provide the background, but it is in the eating areas where the scouring and scrawling is going on in hushed tones. Down here, where it is dark and full of men, there is no interest in fascinators, only fast horses.


It is here, where the smell changes from perfume and oud to spices and fried food, that you might meet Rahmet Hadi, a Pakistani merchant who is sat with friends, two of whom are dressed in traditional white shalwar kameez.

Hadi, in jeans, has been in Dubai for less than a year and is making his first visit to Meydan. He is discussing the day’s racing while completing his Pick Six card, the small slip each visitor is handed on arrival at Meydan and that offers a share of Dh25,000 should six winning horses be correctly selected. No money is wagered.

Hadi is reliant on luck. “I just guess,” he says, smiling. “I don’t know what I am doing, but it’s fun.”

For the US$10 million (Dh36.7m) Dubai World Cup, he picked Epiphaneia.

Some arrive better prepared. Upstairs, but far from the bubble bars and private lounges, Musab Ibrahim Ahmed sits cross-legged on the floor, racing form guides spread out around him. Born and raised in Sudan, Ahmed moved to Dubai 14 years ago and wears a striped sweater and welcoming smile.

He has been poring over an Arabic copy of Al Adiyat, the go-to guide for racing in the UAE, and is filling in his card meticulously.

“I spent time on the internet, looking at each of the races and seeing what people are saying about them,” he says proudly, showing off a sheet of scribbles in ornate, handwritten Arabic. “I took note of three things: which horse Al Adiyat likes, which horse the international experts like and which horse the people here think will win. Of course, it’s just a matter of luck, but why not try to make your luck better?”

Ahmed won Dh600 in 2008 when he picked four winners. For Saturday night’s World Cup, he selected California Chrome after all three of his sources suggested the US Horse of the Year would triumph.

Ahmed is one of thousands of Sudanese who turn out at the Dubai Racing Club’s big event. Before the African nation’s second civil war started, in 1983, horse racing was one of the most popular sports in Khartoum.

“Horse racing is part of our culture,” Ahmed said. “Sudan, before, though, is not the same as it is now. Before 1983, Sudan was like Dubai is now; that is why we like to come here and watch the races and enjoy ourselves.”

Ahmed watched the action from the grandstand, where he was joined by a capacity crowd of 60,000, including Nurul Amin Khan, 49, of Bangladesh. He was attending his seventh World Cup and had completed his Pick Six card immediately on entering.

“I am feeling lucky,” he said. “Prince Bishop will win. Trust me.”

You might have laughed, and you might have regretted doing so a few hours later.


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