The futuristic Nad al Sheba stadium, recently renamed the Meydan Racecourse, rises improbably from the heat haze, 12 miles outside Dubai. Yet something felt wrong: Where were the cheering crowds? Where was the buzz? In the VIP stand, the sheikhs seemed to be having a good time, but just 11 hardy souls sat forlornly in a spectators arena built for thousands.
As the starter pistol cracked, a line of single-humped dromedaries lurched forward in a curious loping gait, urged on by their diminutive jockeys. After 20 seconds, the entire spectacle disappeared into the haze.
At a full sprint, a pedigree camel can touch 20 miles per hour, while the Nad al Sheba course stretches five miles beyond the horizon. I did some basic math: I could expect the winning camels back in view in about 15 minutes.
Maybe it would have been different if I had been born in the Middle East, if I had spent my childhood years frolicking in the desert and sleeping under the stars. Perhaps, then, the sight of a lumbering dromedary would set my pulse racing. Never more conscious of the cultural chasm that divides West from Middle East, I sneaked out the stadium and drove silently back to the bright lights of the city.