Al Dhafra Camel Races: Never a Dull Moment

Published: January 4th 2015
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We've been to horse races, dog races, even car races, but none of them could begin to match the excitement, humor and intrigue of camel races. We had always wanted to experience this Arabian past-time, but never given the opportunity. That all changed at the camel festival.

Not only were we able to attend traditional camel races (races that involve human jockeys), but we were able to spend some time at the race track watching the camels practice for the more common style of races where tiny robots are placed on the camels to take the place of jockeys.

Prior to getting to the racetrack, we visited a shop where the robot jockeys were made. They consist of a tiny metal frame with a drill inside that is wired to a remote control car starter. The drill and frame are covered in fabric that resembles that of a jockey's uniform. The drill is fitted with a tiny whip that spins around upon command from the car starter remote. By spinning the whip, it swings around and hits the camel's hind-end to keep him moving. Really pretty clever.

The races we attended began an hour late, which seems to be common practice in the UAE, but it was worth the wait. When the camels take off from the starting line, so begins the honking, yelling and the mass of SUVs.

Owners and interested parties gather in their SUVs at the starting line and take off in a mass of chaos. The SUVs race like crazy people alongside the track "encouraging" the racers and attempting to avoid a massive collision. The true jockeying probably occurs more outside the track rather than within the track!

We loved the frenzy of excitement, the kicking up of the sand, the bleeting of the horns and the determination of the camels. It wasn't uncommon for a camel to cross the finish line without a rider, proof that maybe the jockeys are not as intregal as one might think. There was one race where 3 of the first 4 finishers were without jockeys!

We couldn't help but laugh at how unceremonously the races ended. The camels, with or without rider, ran across the finish line and without missing a beat, they just kept running toward their home.

Then, in a matter of time, another race began. There wasn't any crowning of the winner or acknowlegement of who would be taking home a prize.

Just as casual as the races ended, they began. There wasn't any trumpeting of a horn, introduction of participants or announcement of race details. The spectators patiently waited long after the "suggested" race time by milling around restlessly and speculating on what might occur.

Then, by simple luck, one of us noticed the mass of cars gathered across the track had started moving around the track. Oh, I guess the races are now underway!

In a short while, from the stands, we were entertained by cars whizzing around the track with people hanging out the window, shaking their head scarves. Through the sand-filled air we could see a pack of camels, josteling for first place with frothy mouths and determined eyes. They glided past the finish line and continued off the track, never to be seen again.


Additional photos below
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Auction ParticipantsAuction Participants
Auction Participants

Some of the racing camels sold for over $100,000 in the auction.

4th January 2015

Pinewood derby
Looks like as much kayoss as the cub scouts pinewood derby. We had to make it a double elimination competition. You had to lose twice to be out. When we had one loss and you were out we had DADs wanting to race the winners again and again. We had 83 boy scouts. How do they sell the racing camels when they take off for home or just take off after they cross the finish line? Joe
5th January 2015

Sounds a bit chaotic!
When I was living in Turkey, we went to camel wrestling matches - a slow neck on neck effort to exhaust the other camel. There was heavy betting going on among the men gathered in the circle around the competitors. Have you seen anything like this?

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