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2008 looks as though it could be a big year for the burgeoning horse racing industry in Israel.

Throughout this past autumn, the Israeli Jockey Club successfully staged regular racing at the Pardes Hannah racetrack, which has sparked renewed interest in the sport. Racing looks certain to take off in a big fashion when the government finally awards the contract to allow betting on the sport. Ahead of this expected development, a number of Israelis have purchased British thoroughbred horses in recent months, a welcome addition to the stock of locally-bred thoroughbreds.

At the most recent Pardes Hannah fixture, on December 1, the IJC staged a 10-race card that included both thoroughbred and Arabian horse races that drew together enthusiasts from all sectors of Israeli society -- Jews, Christians, Arabs, Druze and Bedouin.

Israel is one of the few countries in the developed world that does not have a professional racing industry. With ideal climactic conditions for rearing horses as well as for staging races, and with the gradual addition of experienced overseas racing professionals to the ranks of the enthusiastic local racing devotees, the powers that be may have come to the realization that racing could be a major industry for the future of rural Israel, in particular.

Most Anglo Israelis come from a culture in which racing is an integral part of everyday life, and most have enjoyed a "Day at the Races" in the United States, Britain, Ireland, Australia or South Africa. While it isn't quite time to go out and buy your "Royal Ascot" gear just yet, there is little doubt that the future of racing in Israel is looking rosier and the rapid development of the sport means that going racing at Pardes Hannah, or at one of the other planned racetracks around the country, could soon be a regular sporting and social event.

For more information on horse racing in Israel, visit www.israeliracingnews.weebly.com or e-mail israelracing@gmail.com.

Paul Alster was formerly a racing correspondent with the Press Association of Great Britain and the Racing Post.