Horse racing, the sport of kings, started again in Beirut on Sunday (19 June) under the protection of Syrian guns and against the background of continued civil war in the south of Lebanon.
Horse racing, the sport of kings, started again in Beirut on Sunday (19 June) under the protection of Syrian guns and against the background of continued civil war in the south of Lebanon. The race meeting, the first for two years in the city, showed that despite their problems, the Lebanese seem determined to make a return to normal life.
SYNOPSIS: Nearly 5,000 race-starved Lebanese packed into the course and many had to be turned away at the gates. The large number of Syrian peace-keeping troops did not detract from the cheerful atmosphere. Owners and trainers paraded their horses for the first time since Autumn, 1975, when the track became part of the front line, dividing right and left-wing forces in the 19-month civil war.
Money dealers were out in force, and there were plenty of willing customers.
For jockeys mounting for the first race -- and for the punters -- it was a nervous time. Betting was brisk, though largely for small stakes. Punters didn't want to take any big risks after such a long break.
The first race, over 1,400 metres (yards) on a track softened by a morning thunderstorm, was the climax of more than six months of preparations to repair the track and facilities damaged during the war. Plans are underway to install an elaborate electronic results board, imported from Australia, and left in storage for more than two years. The Islamic Council, and influential Moslem body in Beirut has objected to the reopening of the track because of the gambling. The first meeting was so popular, however, that the organisers plan two meetings a week for the rest of the season.
The victory by Bint Hind won for his owner 5,000 Lebanese pounds (GBP1000 Sterling). The sport of kings is alive, and well again, in Lebanon.