Camel racing is a highly popular sport in the Middle East in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Oman, and it has also become an increasingly high-demand sport in Australia. Despite prominent conceptions that camels are lazy, laid-back creatures that simply fill their humps with water and stroll around the desert, they are actually an incredibly agile and fast animal that can reach speeds of up to 65km/h and maintain velocities of 40km/h.
Camel Racing in the Middle East
Camel racing was originally staged as a traditional feature of weddings and celebrations, yet the development of customised tracks led to race meetings, which are held in the months between October and April and today culminate in the international camel race festival at Al Wathba in the Emirates. Child Jockeys are popular camel racers due to their light weight, however, revelations of child labor in certain countries in the Middle East has caused the ban of child jockeys under the age of 15 in many states.
Thoroughbred racing camels, namely the Omani (very light colour) and Sudania (tan colour) breeds, are put to the test when just two years old. They are initially trained to obey basic commands from a jockey and then a 2km gallop determines whether they have the propensity for racing. The chosen camels are then traditionally made to run every to help maintain and build their stamina. Their staple diet consists of dates, honey, alfalfa, milk and seeds. They were not allowed to drink the day before a race and unable to feed for 12 hours before the race. Depending on the saddle, jockeys can sit in front or behind of the camel’s hump.
Camel Racing in Australia
Back in the early 20th century, camel racing appeared in the form of picnic days in the Aussie outback. The first camel race ran in 1970 in the Todd River Bed as a bet between two friends, Noel Fullerton (see image below) and Keith Mooney-Smith. The camel race proved to be so entertaining that the event grew, as did the prize money and today camel races are a recognised and incredibly popular event at many festivals, which are seen as major tourist attractions. Alongside a number of festivals in Queensland such as the Bedourie Camel Races and Tara Festival of Culture and Camel Races, the Lasserter’s Camel Cup in Alice Springs is the preeminent annual camel racing competition in Australia. The Camel Cup follows the motto ‘temperamental, terribly unpredictable, very entertaining’, meaning that you are assured a hilarious and enthralling day out suited to all ages and interests.
The Camel Cup is held every year on the 2nd Saturday of July at Blatherskite Park. This arena was built by volunteers in 1979 and is the only purpose built camel racing venue in the southern hemisphere, complete with a commentary and judges’ tower with telephone contact to the pits and central arena to keep crown members in the loop.
The general rules of the game stipulate sit-down starts, a maximum of fifteen camels per race and a public ballot held to decide the sponsor and name of each accepted camel and their barrier positions. There are four qualifying races to determine, with the help of the Chief Steward, which 15 camels will qualify to compete for the Camel Cup. The eventual winner of this rae will be awarded the Lion Perpetual Trophy until the next annual meeting.