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How to pick the winner in a camel race

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 should be at the top of any Dubai itinerary. Camels may not have the grace and effortless beauty of horses, but these ungainly yet expertly trained animals are a joy to watch as they speed down the track, legs flailing as they reach 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 April with a series of races at the Al Marmoum Camel Racing track on the outskirts of the city. The annual Dubai Camel Racing Festival, organised by the Dubai Camel Racing Club each February, is a highlight of the season. Around 10,000 one-humped camels travel (with their trainers) from all over the Middle East to compete in this 12-day event, which features about 300 races.

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 Dubai, it’s not surprising that the prize money is often an outrageously large sum.

So what is the secret to picking the winning camel? 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…

Image credits:

And they’re off! © Philip Lange, 2013

Camels crossing © Monkey Business Images, 2013