The U.S. State Department reports that the U.A.E. has made significant progress in eliminating the problems. Dubai also introduced the robot jockeys two years ago to replace the boys. The first jockeys were modeled after humans (one guidebook compared them to C-3PO dressed as a jockey), but those gave way to the smaller and lighter (five to six pounds) robots now used. The robots haven't completely replaced human jockeys -- some camel trainers remain old school -- and enough controversy still surrounds the sport that race schedules aren't so much announced as spread on a Fight Club-type circuit: News gets around to the right people by word of mouth.
Of course, even robot jockeys seem tame compared with the construction visible beyond the track.
Cranes work atop a cluster of a dozen buildings ranging as high as 40 and 60 stories, with one, the Burj Dubai, towering far above them all. The Burj Dubai will be the tallest building in the world when completed, though no one outside of the developers knows exactly how tall that is … and the developers aren't saying. You hear a lot of rumors about the Burj Dubai. It is growing at a floor a day. … No, construction has halted while the developers wait to see how tall a building in another country will be so that they can be certain to make the Burj Dubai taller. … It will be 2,300 feet high. It will be 160 stories high. … No, an image on its official Web site shows a graphic of an elevator button for a 194th floor. According to the Web site, the Burj Dubai is already at least 120 floors and 1,450 feet high and, from the comparisons shown, it appears it will be twice as high as the Empire State Building.
And this is only one slice of Dubai's vast construction. Trucks and cement mixers shuttle 24/7 on and off Palm Islands, a series of man-made islands in the shape of a giant palm tree (with a total land mass larger than Manhattan) due for completion next year. Another project under way, The World, will be a series of 250 more such islands forming the shape of -- what else? -- the Earth's continents. There is Dubai Sports City, Meydan horse city and Dubailand theme park. There is even a skyscraper that will rotate approximately 50 degrees a day to eventually give every resident the same view in the course of a week.
People think Las Vegas is growing fast? Dubai is Vegas on steroids.
And to think that 50 years ago, Dubai was nothing more than a town of several thousand people and a few scattered buildings surrounded by sand and desert. As recently as 1981, the population was only 250,000. It has swelled to 1.3 million now, with thousands more pouring in every month.
"We used to come here back when there was only one road and nobody on it," says Mark Johnston, who has been training horses for Sheikh Mohammed since the mid-'90s. "The Trade Center was the landmark. There was nothing else around."
If the Seattle SuperSonics asked Dubai to build them a $500 million arena, it would respond: Great. How high do you want the sky suites?
"Great. Now we have to wait another hour for the next race," a British woman in her early 20s complains along the rail as she watches Vengeance of Rain sprint past for a win. "I am sooooo bored."
"Mummy has bought us a bottle of champagne," the young man next to her says. "Let's go see Mummy."