Friday, March 25, 2011

Arabian Nights

Last night, I boarded the bus at the Royal Meridien to go to Sheikh Mohammed's desert party, and drew the good straw. The front of the bus was filled with an international congregation of folks I didn't know, so, eyeing another group in the back, I headed to the back of the bus to take my seat in the kids' section. I was soon lucky enough to discover the kids' section was made up of this year's Flying Start graduating class.

Each year, I give a dinner to the Flying Starters during their first year in the course (which is quickly approaching on Bluegrass weekend), but this year, I got to double my yearly Flying Start pleasure, spending what could have been a fairly tedious hour-long ride out to the party arena engaged, instead, in a very spirited discussion with a group of very engaging, very talented young people who are hoping to make our Thoroughbred world their professional world. There were a lot of questions and discussion on just about any and every topic you could think about.

They invited me to continue the discussion, and sit at the kids' table during dinner.

(c) Horsephotos
(c) Horsephotos
For those of you who haven't been, the annual Dubai World Cup desert party has morphed from a celebration of the Arab bedouin culture, done in tents with guests sitting on pillows and indigenous rugs and eating favorite dishes--lamb, chicken, hummus and kabobs that are often referred to as Lebanese cuisine in America--and a display of Arabian horsemanship, Arabian dancing (men only) and music. It has now grown into a party held in an egg-shaped permanent ampitheater with 10 tiers encircling the performance area. Each tier has tables which, while low, no longer have you seated on the ground, but which are complete with pillows and permanent tables. It has the same feel as the rustic tradition, but everyone now has a good view and a great seat. Beer and wine are served, along with a buffet of the native cuisine, delivered at the top of the amphitheater in each section. The evening starts off with skydivers coming down in the night, landing precisely on the right spot in the performance area, and carrying flags of the countries represented in the weekend of racing.
(c) Horsephotos
The party is attended by Sheikh Mohammed and his entourage, who weave their way through the crowd. There is a display of amazing horsemanship and stunt riding, dancing horses, horses jumping through fire, horses with their bodies lit up like electronic light shows in the night.

And, of course, the performance has to end with fireworks--as everything seems to in Dubai. When the fireworks come out, everyone freezes to watch them, guests and workers alike. We think of them as an American Fourth of July tradition, but of course, they have a great following in many cultures, this one among them.

Gio Ponti - (c) Horsephotos
Other sights and sounds: I spent a few minutes with Christophe Clement where Lee and Ramona Bass and children were enjoying the festivities for the first time. Who is more enthuiastic about being a racehorse owner than Ramona Bass? Maybe her son. Having been an enthusiastic financial backer of Gio Ponti against Zenyatta and thinking I was a winner at the eighth pole, and then seeing him bravely cut back in distance only to run into Goldikova on one of the greatest afternoons a horse could have, I would love to see Gio Ponti run great. Maybe Saturday will be his day.

--Barry Weisbord

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