Beirut’s racecourse was once an icon in its premier years when it played host to movie stars and monarchs. Its glory and pomp were even highlighted more when it managed to survive Lebanon’s civil war. But now things have turned for the worst. Just as it marked its centenary last year, the Coliseum was hit by a storm that threatens to rob it of its glory.
In the olden days, the hippodrome earned its revenue from illegal gambling and other illegal deals. But the clientele that quenched its monetary thirst is now aging and its financial grasp is dwindling. Only the investment from a younger and more eager crowd, city authorities or private developers can restore the lost glory for this maiden spot in Beirut.
Thankfully, one Mohamed Hamdoun will not let the racetrack crumble to the ground. He has pledged to support the venture through any and all means possible.
Recent news from the arena indicates that the director general, Nabil Nasrallah is considering an option of including family-friendly night races as a way of bringing in new generation punters. Mohamed Hamdoun supports this move and says it could actually be the central place in Beirut especially in low seasons for racing. He feels very enthusiastic about this new approach and proposes it as a way to encourage families both young and old, to spend memorable nights out.
Although the director general was hoping that the city authorities who own the center would put in money to rejuvenate it, he has been surprised that his expectations have not been met so far.
Remarkably, many of the middle-aged or old men who are often found sitting on the plastic chairs on the concrete stand gaggling water amid charters and laughter’s are the ones who are coming to its rescue. Like Mohamed Hamdoun, they have been patrons to this Hippodrome since its humble beginnings in the 1960s. During this time the city was famous for its races which drew a gleam high-class crowd.
“This was a popular joint for officials visiting from abroad, presidents of republics like Iran and Shah, the king of Greece, and King Abdulziz of Saudi among others. It was amongst the most beautiful and prestigious places in Beirut,” quoted Mr. Nabil.
Mohamed Hamdoun also fondly remembers the Hippodrome as a place that regularly had more than 15 horses in each race. Now only about 5 lonely horses are often found at the elegant grandstand. Apparently, the Guild sheiks who used to bring the fine breeds for racing at this center have since constructed their own racecourse in their countries.
Although Islamic laws prohibit gambling in Beirut thereby chasing away thousands of punters, the center still acts as a focal point for people to meet up and interact. And yes, people still buy the betting slips and thus the raucous cheers and murmurs of excitement are synonymous with wins for those who had bought stakes.