Monday, 16 April 2012

Horse Racing in Riyadh

Watching the horse racing in Riyadh over the winter months is quite a nice thing to do, when you're looking for something to do.

The King Abdullah race track isn't far out of town, down Janadriyah road, and racing is on most winter weekends.  Summer in Saudi is far too hot for racing to be any fun for anyone.

The website for the Equestrian Club of Riyadh( lets you know what races are on and when.  Most weeks the horse racing starts around 4pm.

There is a restaurant with buffet dinner if you fancy dressing up a little and watching the races in comfort indoors.

Dressed up at the races
Expat organisations often have 'A Night At The Races' events, where they book out one of the buffet rooms and encourage dressing up with fancy hats, almost like you're at home except there are a couple of rules that remind you where you are - no wine or beer with the meal and although abaya's need not be worn in the buffet rooms they have to be redonned if you want to go out closer to the track. 

Abaya redonned outdoors.
The stewards area is always popular, especially with the kids.  It's where you can go lay your hands on a horse  Not one of those sleek, finely chiselled racing horses, but nice all the same. 

The winners circle is in front of the main stadium where important personages are seated (once they arrive) so they get a good view of the track and because the TV cameras are set up nearby so important types get good covereage.

The area around the winners circle is where you can meet a few of the horse racing hierarchy who are usually dressed for warmth in thick jackets, but my favorite are the guys in flowing golden capes.  Why flowing golden capes?  They look good.  And they're probably very warm.

If you don't have the cash for the buffet at the races, or you're on a diet, you can do what we often do - bring a picnic and sit in the cheap seats out front.   You are at the mercy of the weather which can get cool or dusty or both, but it's still a lot of fun.

A sweep stake system is run at the races because you aren't allowed to bet in Saudi.   Down near the track are numbered boxes and for a small fee (I think it's 5 SAR/token)you can put a token into the box that corresponds to the number of your chosen horse. The tokens of the winning horse are taken out after each race and  put into a big lottery type barrel. At the end of the night, from memory, three tokens are drawn from the barrel.  First wins about 2000SAR, second 1500 SAR and third 1000 SAR.  All other money is given to charity, so I've heard.

We tend to run our own style of sweep stake at the races which goes something like this:
  • Numbers from 1 - 25 are written on to paper ripped out of my notebook. (It is rare that you'll get 25 horses in a race).
  • Look at the race program and, after checking for scratching's  pick a couple of horses for upcoming race. (It's important to note that in Saudi the program booklet reads back to front. It took us a while to figure this out on our first visit).

    Your choice for a winning horse can be based on previous form, though learning how to read a race card is a good idea if you want to choose like this. Failing comprehension of the details on the card choosing a horse because it has a nice or catchy name will always suffice - names like 'It's So You' or 'Madame Excererate' or 'Baraa Aem', which sounds kind of vroomy if said with Arabic accent.

    The other option for choosing a horse is to run a discerning eye over the horses as they are paraded prior to the race.

    This is the point where we pretend to know something about horses - "Ohh, I like that one - she's got long legs and looks racey". "Oh, how about that one - so tall and look at her muscle definition". Or, "I like that one, she's so dark and the colors on her rider match her perfectly" - which has nothing to do with horse physique, but when you know nothing about horse flesh you can always fall back on fashion.

    If you're not good at determining horse form, horse flesh or fashion the last option is to pick a horse from the Kings stable. Rumor has it they aren't allowed to be beaten though I prefer to think he probably can afford the best horses, riders and trainers.
  • Whatever method you use, take the number of the horse/horses you like. Make your mind up quick because each number can only be chosen once per race.
  • Any numbered pieces of paper left over (minus those of scratched horses)are then randomly handed out to whoever has come along with us because we like there to be a winner for each race.
  • Watch the race, cheer loudly.
  • If the number you are holding comes in you win a Bounty Bar.
It is possible, if you're good at picking horses, to get fat and/or sick of Bounty Bars when you come to the races with us.

However you choose to do your sweep stake, watching horse racing is always a nice way to spend a winter evening in Riyadh.

Ka Kite,

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