Abdul Rahman Mohammad Osman
Sudanese race fan Osman, 40, claims to be Godolphin’s biggest follower and, from the sight of his blue dishdasha and keffiyah, covered in red, black, green and white badges honouring the nation’s leadership, few would disagree with him. He finds time between his work as a watchman in Abu Dhabi to travel to every race meet at Meydan during the World Cup Carnival and takes up his usual spot just overlooking the parade ring, surrounded by husks of sunflower seeds and an air of nervous excitement. In his 20 years following the sport, he has become as familiar a sight to winning jockeys as the weigh-in room as he rallies support from the rafters. “My blood is blue, I bleed Godolphin,” he motions to his heart, while anxiously pouring over the race card. “I want to see all UAE horses, trainers and jockeys doing well,” he adds.
Picking a winner isn’t as important to Samad as spending time with his friends at the end of another hard week. Gathered on the green beneath the grandstand, the 50-year-old Pakistani labourer from Al Quoz sits putting the world to rights with his compatriots Abdul Humid Abdullah, 24, and Ghulam Sarvar Abdul Rahman, 48, while the big screen before them emits tales of failure and fortune. “It’s fun to have a chance to win prizes,” said Abdul Raheem, while calmly blackening out numbers from his pick six entry form before the inevitable scramble to the deposit box in time for race one. “We’re happy when one of our horses wins. But we mainly just come here to relax and enjoy watching the people pass by. They all come from so many countries and it’s nice to meet them and pass the time in their company.”
Pino makes a routine trip to the races every week with a group of 10 to 15 of his friends and work colleagues from Dubai Creek Golf and Yacht Club and Emirates Golf Club, where they work as greenkeepers. “Thursday nights we are free and there is nothing to do at home, so we come here and try our luck at the races.” said the 44-year-old Filipino, who has been in the UAE together with his friends since 1993 — long enough to remember the first Dubai World Cup, which was won by Cigar and jockey Jerry Bailey, who went on to triumph in the race a record four times. “It’s just for fun. We’ve been coming here together for 20 years. We’re getting older but we still don’t have any luck,” he jokes as they gather around a bench, pens ready and race cards primed as they tick off the last race and scan past form, weights and ratings of the next group of runners.
Nadine masks his disappointment of the last race by pouring yet more steaming tea from a Thermos flask while perched on a trackside bench along the apron. Pencil in hand, deep in thought and with his hat tipped to one side, he sits in silence with his friends, who are all equally as engrossed in the action. The 55-year-old Sudanese military worker from Sharjah boasts having attended weekly race meets all over the country since the sport first started here three decades ago. He and his colleagues back the American-trained horses again for this year’s World Cup race, with the state-side trainers having previously dominated the event, with eight wins in its last 17 editions, all of which he can recall from memory. But he’s just as keen to see locally-trained horses doing well, citing Hunter’s Light ridden by Silvestre Da Souza as his hot tip for 2013 World Cup glory.
Almost oblivious to the main event, Hassan sits at the corner of a crowded Bedouin-weaved carpet with his back to the action, dealing endless rounds of Arabic coffee to his family and friends. Time spent in chaotic conversation with the 70-year-old Yemeni is as much an insight into local customs and culture as it is an introduction to the racing. “The horse and good horsemanship is as an integral a part of Arab culture as the camel,” he begins thoughtfully, with those around desperate for a chance to interject. “It’s in our blood. We cherish these animals and attending the races is a celebration of our past,” he adds. With a keen interest in Purebred Arabians and his attendance at the races spanning 20 years, Hassan doesn’t have to strain his memory too hard before naming the legendary Al Anudd (Unchained Melody) as his all-time favourite Arabian.