Tradition Thrives at Baghdad Equestrian Club
|May 30, 2010||Filled under All Dinar Trade Articles|
By Peter Kenyon- An equestrian ritual of anticipation unfolds just as it has for more than eight decades in West Baghdad’s Amariya neighborhood: Jockeys in brilliantly colored racing silks coax their nervous mounts into the starting gate. The stadium crowd streams out toward the rail to get a view of the finish. The last balky horse slides into place. A flag is raised, and they’re off.
As the horses disappear around the far turn, patrons strain to hear the call of the race over the aging loudspeakers. Soon a tiny cloud of dust appears as the leaders make the final turn and come pounding down the home stretch.
In a flash, it’s over, and the crowd slowly makes its way back to the shade to escape the late spring heat. Those carrying betting slips for No. 4, Courageous Lady, are in luck. For the rest, there’s always the next race.
In spite of the U.S.-led invasion and years of sectarian violence, the Baghdad Equestrian Club has carried on. Each Tuesday and Saturday, Iraqis converge on the club’s racetrack in a dusty and sometimes dangerous corner of Baghdad, where Sunni and Shiite extremists have each held sway.
As the old-timers in the crowd will tell you, this is a seedy imitation of the glamorous scene at the original track, built by the British after World War I in the posh Mansour neighborhood. Gone are the purebred Arabian horses, the trimmed hedgerows and the gentlemen in their suits. But in the face of hardships that brought so much of Iraqi life to a crashing halt, the members of the Baghdad Equestrian Club have displayed an astonishing tenacity in clinging to the remains of their secular pleasures.
Through a lopsided, broken-toothed grin, 60-year-old Mohid Daoud says he’s been a track regular for 40 years. Oh, the old days were of course much better, he says, shrugging his shoulders, but what else is there to do for fun in Baghdad?
In another corner of the racetrack restaurant sits Abu Khaled, a wide man with a wider grin and a voice that could crush gravel. He, too, has four decades of Baghdad racing under his voluminous belt, and he tries not to miss race days because you never know when…(more story)
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