Dubai: Sports Playground for the Ultra-Rich

The world's richest horse race ended 90 minutes ago, with 2006 Breeder's Cup champ Invasor charging down the stretch to win the $6 million Dubai World Cup. Now, as the clock edges past 11 p.m. and the gates close at Nad Al Sheba racetrack, the world's richest taxi line begins.

In addition to paying out $21.2 million for seven races, the World Cup is the social event of the season in Dubai, where the rich and beautiful go to see and be seen. With a prize of $5,000 and a trip to Thailand awarded to the best-dressed woman, it's where the Daily Racing Form meets Oscar night's red carpet. Hundreds of women from all over the world -- Dubai, Lebanon, England, Turkey, Ukraine, Asia, America -- have been on parade outside the track all afternoon and evening, providing new definition to the term "racing silks." Elegant, formfitting dresses display beautifully tanned legs and accentuate every curve of the body. Necklines plunge low to reveal lace-trimmed satin bras. Wide-brimmed hats are outrageously topped with enough exotic feathers, flowers and ribbons to shame an Ice Capades skater. The men, meanwhile, sport pin-striped tuxedos and morning coats, suits, sport coats, kilts and top hats as they suck on water pipes called hookahs and mix among Arabs in flowing white robes.

Many of the non-Muslim expats are now also drunk ... or, at least, nicely buzzed. This is the prophet Muhammad's birthday, and out of respect, the sale of alcohol has been banned throughout the country for most of the day. But not here at Nad Al Sheba. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, rules Dubai, and horses are his passion, the World Cup his baby. So race day goes on as usual, and bartenders have been serving $120-$500 bottles of champagne at the Bubble Lounge and more reasonably priced cups of Guinness for $10 in the Irish Village since early afternoon.

And now these beautiful people need a ride home.

The line for taxis is two to six people thick and snakes around the parking lot for at least half a furlong. That would be bad enough, but the taxis are appearing, at most, two or three a minute. The people at the end of the line are going to be here a very, very long time.

Fortunately, I have hitched a seat on the van ferrying the ABC television crew back to its hotel. And as we crawl out of the parking lot, desperate men and women race up to the van, tripping in high heels and waving at the windows, begging us to let them on. It's like the last chopper out of Saigon, only with more feathers and bigger cup sizes.

There is no room available, not that anyone is in the mood to let anyone else on, anyway. "Don't stop! Keep going!" we howl. "Don't look them in the eyes!!!" someone shouts at the driver.

We pull out of the parking lot and onto the main road leading back to the city center. There is a sleek convertible ahead of us, with a man and a woman in the front seat and another man squeezed into the backseat.

Wait. "There's another woman in the backseat," someone yells from the front of the van. "If you know what I mean."

I can't see from my seat, but I think I get the picture. And all this is taking place, mind you, in a country where there's no betting on horse races and where public intoxication or excessive public affection can earn you a jail sentence; a country bordering Saudi Arabia, 100 miles across the Persian Gulf from Iran and down the Gulf from Iraq.

A country that wants to host the Olympics.

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