Horse Racing: A little horse play to go with your matza

Israeli jockeys Doron Ben Menashe and Sallem El-Oqbi are set to raise their 20-year-old rivalry to new levels at the Gilboa Festival.

horse racing 224.88 (photo credit: Courtesy )
horse racing 224.88
(photo credit: Courtesy )
Israeli jockeys Doron Ben Menashe and Sallem El-Oqbi will raise their 20-year-old rivalry to new levels at the Gilboa Festival on Tuesday when they battle it out at the course's annual horse racing festival. Ben-Menashe kept up a very business-like view of the race prior to the event, "It's our job, for every jockey it's all about the money," he said. A total of NIS 40,000 in prize money will be at stake over the seven races to be held at the Pessah event which is expected to attract between 8,000 and 10,000 people. Races begin at 3 p.m. Ben-Menashe, who will be riding against El-Oqbi in five races, including the last three, played down the rivalry. "Who takes the most wins, that is the competition, but it is between everyone," The prizes from the earlier races will range from NIS 3,000 to NIS 6,000. The final three races will have prizes ranging from NIS 8,000 to NIS 9,000. "They are basically the two outstanding riders in Israel, always in demand," said Paul Alster, public relations director of the Israeli Jockey Club, adding that the two have a had a very good rivalry for many years. Ben-Menashe was also excited for the possibility that today's races will help horse racing in Israel. "I will do anything to help [Israeli racing],"he said. In addition to the rivalry between Ben-Menashe and El-Oqbi, there is some drama to watch out for between two horses in the sixth race. The horses Balance and Dubai, who is being ridden by El-Oqbi , having been battling each other for several months. As it stands, the horses have split their last two meetings, making their meeting on Tuesday the tie breaker. According to Alster, the two horses are the best middle distance Arabian colts in Israel. The races are being held at Gilboa Hippodrome. Delegates from the Israeli government include Eli Yishai, Industry Minister, and Jacob Edery, Development Minister of the Negev and the Galil and Raleb Majadele, Minister for Science, Culture & Sport . Delegations from Jordan and the Palestinian Authority will also be in attendance. The day begins at 9 a.m. and in addition to the eight races, there will be activities beforehand, including parades, games and other activities. The main features of the morning will be an Arabian horse show put on by the Arabian Horse Society, and a Spanish riding demonstration. "A lot of people are hoping that it [racing] takes off in Israel," Alster said. As of now horse racing is not a professional sport in Israel, with no backing from the Sports Ministry. One of the obstacles to racing becoming a professional sport is that there is currently no betting system in place for races, a key component of the sport's popularity globablly. However, there is legislation in the Keneset that would create a betting system for the sport. If the Israeli Sports Betting Board creates a betting system that is state run, the sport would start to receive money and legitimacy. "The Jockey Club is hoping the government will see what is going on and will be acting upon," Alster said. What is going on, according to Alster, is a sport that is waiting to take off, with 120,000 people already involved in the sport and thousands jobs that could be created if the sport is professionalized. "There is no racing industry [in Israel], while all of the Arab states have a racing industry," Alster said. Beyond the economic benefits of racing, Alster sees a cultural benefit to racing, calling it a "completely inclusive sport." "You will see religious Jews, Druze, Bedouins, women, Jews riders riding for Arab traders, all kinds."