For a truly unusual experience and a chance to see a sport firmly rooted in the city’s traditions and culture, attending a camel race has got to be right at the top of any Dubai holiday itinerary. They may not have the grace and beauty of horses, but these ungainly, yet expertly trained animals are a joy to watch as they speed down the track, reaching speeds of up to 40 miles per hour on a sprint.
In what is nothing less than a pure juxtaposition of the traditional and the modern, camel racing season in Dubai takes place from September to March, and the Dubai Camel Racing Festival, held under the patronage of the Crown Prince of Dubai, kicks off every February at the Al Marmoum Camel Racetrack on the outskirts of the city. Thousands of one humped camels travel (with their trainers) from all over the Middle East to compete in this 12-day event, where races avoid the midday blistering heat and run from 7am to 10am and then again from 2pm to 5pm. Make sure you bring a pair of binoculars if you intend to closely follow the progress.
When it comes to picking the camel most likely to win, the one thing (strangely) that you don’t have to take into consideration is the jockey. The camels are ridden by robotic jockeys, controlled by trainers who follow the race in their cars with remote controls – a practice that brings a certain amount of frivolity to the event.
Although the crowds might think it’s all just a bit of a novelty, the attitude of the trainers couldn’t be more opposed. Being in Dubai, it’s not surprising that when it comes to prize money, it’s outrageously large. No wonder the trainers take the races so seriously when luxury cars are often on the list of rewards, not to mention some truly jaw-dropping sums of money.
So what is the secret to picking the winning camel? Rather unsurprisingly and rather like any sport where animals are concerned, there are no hard and fast fixed rules when it comes to choosing the potential winners. Camels range from the highly competitive, run-like-their-life-depends-on-it, to the ‘happy to be taking part’, dawdling variety – and there’s no real way to tell how they’ll feel about it all on the day. And we think that’s exactly what makes this incredible spectacle so interesting – the race itself is almost entirely down to the individual camels and whether or not they’re in the mood. Some might say they’ve earned that right – they are the national treasures of Dubai after all…
Have you been to Dubai? What were your favourite experiences? Spill the beans in the comments below.