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Hippodrome horse racing (Beirut Racecourse)

Ever since the remotest antiquity, wherever people have had horses they have held races. The horse, proud friend of man, easily domesticated, swift runner, and highly adaptable, is a creature of great beauty. He dominates processions and public races, arousing the enthusiasm of young and old. Many civilizations have left us the remains of their hippodromes, which existed in Babylon, Phoenician Tyre, and Rome and have continued down to the present day, At Vincennes in France, at Epsom in South England with its famous Derby, and at Beirut itself. . Here it lies near Museum Square, a road connection in south-west Beirut, next to the French Embassy, covering an extensive stretch of land of two square kilometers, planted with pine trees ever since the Ottoman occupation. Here, on Saturdays and Sundays particularly, races are run on the track.

The principal entrance is on the main road between the Museum and the Barbir Crossing. The track on which the horses run is circular, and punters and spectators take their places on a grandstand provided for them. On the north side are the stables where care is taken of the horses, which are the private property of certain breeders with a passion for gambling on the races.

The Beirut Hippodrome, whose official name is Hippodrome du Parc de Beyrouth, is the one important horse-racing track for Beirut and Lebanon. It was first laid out in 1885 in the Bir Hassan suburb, and then in 1918 was moved to land adjoining Abdallah Yafi Avenue, next to the Beirut Pine Woods Forêt des Pins. It was at the Résidence des Pins that in 1920 General Gouraud proclaimed the existence of Greater Lebanon.

With an eye to horse races on the national and international levels, the Hippodrome enlarges its range of events every spring so as to offer over 160 spectacles at more than 24,000 visitors come from Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Cyprus and Europe.

All this tradition goes a long way back into the past, with horses and races in Lebanon enjoying an honorable reputation. The hippodrome of Tyre, quite well preserved even now, was one of the largest and most impressive of the ancient Roman Empire, rivaling even that of Olympia. The old hippodrome of Beirut has disappeared, but relics of its glorious past may be seen in the Beirut National Museum.

The land and the seating of the present racecourse are the property of the Beirut City Council, while the management belongs to a non-profit organization, the SPARCA (in English, the Society for the Protection and Valorization of the Arab Horse in Lebanon). The interest shown by a large number of lovers of the Arab horse will ensure its continuity and prosperity and its place in the history of sport.

In fact the Arab horse is one of the achievements of Mother Nature. Up till the end of the 19th century, certain outstanding Lebanese devoted themselves passionately to this noble animal and encouraged its use in racing. Despite much pain and fatigue, they traveled all over the Syrian Desert in order to make a choice of the best performing steeds for the benefit of their own stables. In our day, this passion for the Arab horse has spread all over the world, while competition has been the leading factor in its breeding. The Beirut Hippodrome was conceived in order to perpetuate the Arab breed and its sandy track has proved one of the best testing grounds for its speed and vigor.

Joseph Matar
Translation from the French: Kenneth Mortimer

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