The Spirit of Sharjah

Sharjah Racecourse

Sharjah Racecourse

Gold markets, vast shopping malls and designer outlets - Dubai has established itself as a city of monetary excess, a place where if you need to ask the price of something, you probably can’t afford it.
The horseracing is the same. In only a short time, Dubai has made a name for itself as the epicentre of glitz and glam as well as becoming a hub for the best racehorses in the world during the winter months.

The city’s newest racecourse, Meydan, can boast facilities like no other: swimming pools, hotels and restaurants - and that’s just in the half-mile long grandstand. But, like a major football club tends to find its best players through smaller feeder clubs, Meydan is not the racecourse where all horses begin their careers.
Only the best race in Dubai and so it is left to the handful of other racecourses in the United Arab Emirates to give future champions their first chance to shine.

One such course is Sharjah, a half-hour drive from Dubai’s huddled skyscrapers. Here, there is no expensive dining, no luxury spas... in fact, there’s not even an admission fee - you just turn up and enjoy the day’s action, as around two hundred locals had done when I was there. Not too bad considering the place is in the middle of nowhere.

The seven races on the card are a mix of thoroughbred and Arabian horse events with jockeys on board that would seem familiar on a wet and windy afternoon at Nottingham: riders such as Tadhg O’Shea, Royston Ffrench, Pat Dobbs and Richard Mullen all head to these sunny shores for five months of the year.

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The similarity with UK racing ends there though. The names of horses are as alien to British punters as dogs are to computers, and the form is as reliable as a French worker.

It doesn’t matter though as gambling is outlawed in the UAE, and the course is eerily quiet without a raucous choir of bookies shouting the odds. However, if the thought of going to the races without the chance to win anything is unbearable, there is a ‘Lucky Six’ competition which is free to enter - all you have to do is pick the first six winners on the card and you could win a car. The locals love it, some entering two or three times. I’m not sure if anyone has told them that the car on offer is only a Toyota.

Things are pretty routine as proceedings get underway - winners win, losers lose - all accompanied by separate commentaries at either end of the small but relatively new grandstand - one in English, the other in Arabic.

The course is a tight, left-handed affair with a deep, artificial racing surface, most comparable to Southwell back home and it provides a stern test of the horses’ stamina. Finishes are slow but close-knit nonetheless, thanks to the competitive racing provided by ten-plus runners in each heat.

Because there is no betting, those that attend the races are solely there because they are passionate about the sport. There is no pressure of winning or losing vast sums of money: rather, the spectators are watching a sport they love, pure and simple. If a locally-trained horse wins, the roof is blown off.

That is, however, the only time you will hear the crowd getting vocal. With no alcohol on sale at the track, the mass of drunks so familiar at British tracks in midsummer are absent. The atmosphere may be less absorbing as a result but at least there’s no-one to spill a pint of snakebite down your new shirt.

Sharjah may not be Ascot or Goodwood, perhaps not even Wolverhampton, but it is a racecourse and if you love the game of horseracing, you’ll feel right at home.

By Ross Birkett

Ross, son of trainer Julia Feilden, is currently enjoying a 'working holiday' in Dubai (lucky bugger!), and writes regularly on his own blog at

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4 replies
  1. Avatar
    Tommy Proud says:

    Tried to leave a comment in the relevant blog post but couldn’t

    Downloaded your book 2yo bomb which I found interesting but some of the race terms are not explained and are not known to me even after 40 years of gambling.

    race types


    An explanation would be appreciated
    Tommy Proud

    • Avatar
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Tommy

      That’s just the notation used by the database I use.

      2m is 2yo maiden, etc.

      It’s not relevant to the operation of the system.


  2. Avatar
    Ed says:

    Hey Matt,

    Interesting Article Matt,

    I wonder do they have any quarter horse racing there?

    I use to go the Los Alamitos quarter horse racing, back in California.
    Most of the horses where Arabian that ran there.

    The arabian is bread for speed, and they run on shorter distants of 4 to 5 furlongs.

    Yep, their very fast. You need to be watching very carefully, as the race is over with in a minute and time under…

    So Matt, any tips for the Hennessy? ” Watch out for Weird Al, he looks set to beat Denman, almost 2 stone less and Paddy Brennan is in good form…

    The race is over almost

    • Avatar
      Matt Bisogno says:

      Hi Ed

      I think Burton Port and Weird Al are interesting in the Hennessy, and I reckon Denman will run well for a long way, though his age / weight are set against him.

      More of a watching race for me, but that said, I will probably have an interest bet on BP.


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