x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

A little taste of the Middle East at Newbury racecourse

Thanks to a university exchange programme, 54 female students from the UAE were among those present at Newbury racecourse in England to join in the Dubai Summer Festival.

University students from the UAE, who have been studying at the Al Maktoum College in Dundee, Scotland, graced Newbury yesterday to enjoy the Dubai Summer Festival.
University students from the UAE, who have been studying at the Al Maktoum College in Dundee, Scotland, graced Newbury yesterday to enjoy the Dubai Summer Festival.

Asraa Min Albarq is not a name that is pronounced with ease by British racegoers.

As the grey son of Amer came thundering down the finishing straight of Newbury racecourse in England yesterday to win the Group 1 Dubai International Stakes, it positively rolled off tongues in the crowd.

The eight year old, trained by the Qatar-based Julian Smart, held off the late thrust of No Risk Al Maury and Jaafer, and in doing so was cheered home by a large throng of supporters. You could almost sense the pride felt by Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid, the patron of yesterday's international Arabian race day.

The final day of Newbury's Dubai Summer festival regularly attracts a bumper crowd but this year the queue to get in waited under weeping skies. With the temperatures hovering at 43°C in the UAE yesterday, the weather was distinctly un-Arabian but 12,000 came despite the teeming rain. Never underestimate the value of free entry. Families desperate to give their children a cheap day out took up the marketing team's offer but it was not only local families who made the journey.

Widad Chhibi, 15, had come from Morocco. She arrived last week with her mother and sister and was staying with friends in Cambridge. Her family was taken to Newmarket to witness No Risk Al Maury's successful bid for a second Abu Dhabi International Arabian Racing Stakes nine days ago. Smitten by the sport and driven by a tugging homesickness, Chhibi looked for further Arabian races. She was delighted to read Newbury was staging a full card.

"There is not a lot of Arabic culture in Cambridge," she said, wearing a dress in resplendent UAE colours. "We have come here to keep in touch with what's going on in the Arab world."

Chhibi later entered the best dressed woman competition but did not win the £500 (Dh2,963) prize. "Do they not recognise my UAE colours?" she said. It was a sharp lesson that despite the free holidays and goody bags on offer here, not everything is a giveaway.

Chhibi was not the only girl to make a visit. Thanks to a university exchange programme, 54 female students from the UAE were also present. For three weeks these young women had studied at the Al Maktoum College in Dundee, Scotland, on a programme that aims to exchange cultural and religious ideas.

"Dundee is nice, but very quiet and very cold. I am missing the Dubai heat," said Afra Al Falasi, from Dubai Women's College. "For the last few weeks we have discussed Christianity and Islam, and the difference between each culture and religion. We had to do presentations and artwork that explored our experiences of Scotland."

Clearly the interaction between students went well, until culinary matters failed to find common ground. "They showed us haggis," Al Falasi said. "I did not eat this. It sounds disgusting."

It has been said in the past that the purebred Arabian message has failed to get through in Britain. And to a certain extent, it has. Few racegoers could tell the difference between dish-faced Arabians and a thoroughbred. Yet to have a host of British racegoers, dressed in T-shirts and baseball caps emblazoned with Dubai logos, screaming for Arabian horses to win is surely half the battle.

"Of course there are better Group 1 races for Arabian horses around the world, but as a day this is second to none," said Smart, who also saddled Aziz to win the Group 1 Zabeel International Stakes. "Our whole summer is geared around this, and then the Arc meeting in Paris in October. Nothing beats it."

sports@thenational.ae