At the beginning of November the horse racing calendar starts in Dubai, with racing every Thursday evening and on other special occasions (such as Boxing Day and New Year's Day). The season culminates with the Dubai World Cup in March (which is the world's richest horse race with an estimated $6m purse).
Many of you will probably know this, but gambling is illegal here in the UAE, which does make the atmosphere at the horse racing a little flat . . . but interestingly enough, you can still make "guesses"!
On arrival at the racing club, you pass next to a desk, where you are handed a booklet with information on the night's racing - horses, owners, jockeys, previous form etc, and you are also handed a free "guessing" form, where you place your guesses for which horse will come first, second and third in each race that night. You fill in the form and then hand it in, prior to the first race starting.
Of course, this is a little bit of fun in a non-gambling country, but for some it is BIG business. The racing is free to enter and therefore hundreds of the poorer people come along, both for a social gathering, something to watch, and the chance to "guess" correctly. For the lucky people who guess best, there is a pot of 15,000 Dirhams (£2,800) to be won. For them, where the average monthly income is around 1500 Dirhams, if they win, they do get a chance to win a year's salary, which is amazing!
With the exception of watching the horses, there is little else to do at ground level, but the grandstand is full of paying hospitality bars and restaurants for those who wish to partake in some drinking (yes, alcohol) and fine dining.
We paid about £15 entry fee to get us into the Gainsborough lounge, which is set in the grandstand. There, you can freely buy booze and snack food, in addition to getting into another "guessing game" for prizes.
It was a great night - and I did very well with my "guessing" - which in my case it truly was! I came in 7th place, with our friend John coming 5th. Those who came first, second and third received a prize of about £1000, which would have been very nice indeed! Sadly, it was not to be, but we had good fun!
This last Thursday night, we decided to return with the children as they had been badgering us to take them. We had had a shamal that week and the temperatures had dropped. It was freezing and we were all wearing fleeces and wearing scarves. But the children had good fun, cheering on the horses and guessing which ones were going to win!