If there’s one sporting event that surely sparks the curiosity of visitors, and binds together the local people of UAE across all emirates, it is the traditional sport of camel racing. There isn’t anything quite like being able to watch trained race camels mounted with robotic jockeys, racing at speeds of around 65km/h, along the desert tracks.
What is Camel Racing?
Camel racing goes back many centuries when Middle-Eastern people of the local population would get together during festivals and events such as weddings to take part in this folk sport. Similar to horse racing, camels would compete against each other by running along a predetermined track.
On the day of the camel race, anywhere between 15-60 camels can be competing with each other for the trophies and prize money. Camels adorned in bright colours stand behind the gates at the start line, and sprint as soon as the gates fling open.
There’s excitement in the air as you hear the crowds cheering for these camels sprinting with their necks bobbing into a fog of sand. Their trainers following them closely in their SUVs, driving around the race track, giving instructions through robotic jockeys sitting on top of the camels. Races typically last up to 15 minutes, which is then followed by the award ceremony.
Camel racing in Dubai draws in large crowds and promises to be an excellent tourist attraction. The races taking place in the UAE even include traditional customs, rituals and folklore during the entire day of racing to evoke the customs of the region amongst visitors and tourists.
A Traditional Sporting Event
The connection that Emirati’s have with camels has been long rooted. Not only were these animals used as modes of transport across the vast deserts, but they were also a reliable source of food and milk to the locals. They have been used for trading, and as mentioned before, taking part in sporting events.
The camel racing events that we see now in UAE preserve that rich Emirati cultural values and reflect the region’s traditions.
While the love for camel racing prevails, there are some things that have changed significantly over time. With the opportunity for the winning camels to walk away with cash prizes worth millions of dirhams, this internationally recognised sport has led to the rise of facilities for camel training, breeding, and research.
Nowadays, techniques such as special artificial insemination and embryo transfer techniques are used for crossbreeding select lineages and raising camels that are meant for the racing track. Careful attention is given to their training and nutrition in order to prepare racing camels for competition.
In the UAE, under the strict guidelines of the Emirates Camel Racing Federation, local governments encourage breeding programs and even provide subsidies to camel owners and breeders.
Safe Practices with Robotic Jockeys
In 2002, UAE outlawed any child jockeys riding the camels, and welcomed light-weight robotic jockeys instead. The basic structure of these robotic jockeys comprises a metal frame, and a cordless power drill attached to a whip that encourages the camel to run faster without causing any hurt.
These robots are decorated in the colours of the team and placed on moulded metal saddles that go on the camel during a race.
Advancement in technology has allowed some trainers to add on extra features to their jockeys without compromising on the weight that may slow down the camel. These features include a GPS to locate the camel’s location, a walkie talkie allowing the trainer to speak to the camel and a heart rate monitor to keep track of the camel’s health.
When is Camel Racing season in Dubai?
The Dubai camel racing season typically takes place during the cooler winter season, from October to April, at the different camel racing tracks across the country.
Races are likely to take place early mornings, around 7:00 am, on Fridays and Saturdays.
What began as an informal sport, has quickly been established as an international racing event recognised across a global platform. The camel racing festivals held in UAE under the patronage of His Highness Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid Al Maktoum – Dubai’s Crown Prince and the Chairman of Dubai Sports Council, bring together thousands of camel owners and race enthusiasts from across the UAE as well as the other Middle Eastern regions.
Where can I see a Camel Race in Dubai?
Camel races are usually free to attend, however, because every year it draws in large crowds, it is advisable to book seats beforehand. Come in early on race day and have the opportunity to take pictures with the camels too.
In Dubai, the largest track is the Al Marmoon Camel Racing Track, situated near the Al Marmoum heritage village, which is a half an hour drive on the Al Ain road towards Oman. It hosts annual camel races as part of the country’s heritage festival – Al Marmoom Heritage Festival.
Other camel racing tracks are present across the UAE include
- Al Wathba race track in Abu Dhabi
- Al Sawan race track in Ras Al Khaimah
- Al Dhaid race track in Sharjah
- Al Tallah racecourse in Ajman
- Al Lebsa race track in Umm Al Quwain
Up to date information on Dubai camel races and upcoming events, especially at the Al Marmoon Camel race track can be found on the Dubai Camel Racing Club website or email them email@example.com (we are still awaiting a winter 2021/22 racing schedule).
You will also find camel racing as part of the annual Al Dhafra Festival, held in the Abu Dhabi Western Region each December. This is the country’s largest heritage festival event and its cornerstone event the Camel Mazayna draws huge international interest. The main festival grounds are approximately 3 hours from Dubai.
Are there any more camel experiences in Dubai?
A visit to Dubai is incomplete without a picture of you with a camel. And there is more than one spot for you to grab that perfect shot with the ship of the desert. You can choose to get one while riding a camel at the beachfront of The JBR, against the backdrop of Palm Jumeirah, at a desert safari or while feeding the camels at the Camel Farm.
More Frequently asked questions about camel racing in Dubai
Camel racing is an internationally recognised traditional sport that involves well-bred and trained camels mounted with robotic jockeys running around the camel race track, with the winning camel fetching prizes worth millions of dirhams.
There are a few different venues of different size tracks all around UAE, however, the largest and most popular is the Al Marmoon Camel Racing Track of Dubai. Do note, racing is seasonal so you need to wait for the cooler days of winter to catch the racing in action. In summer you can head along early and catch a glimpse of trainers putting camels through their paces.
The largest track is the Al Marmoon Camel Racing Track of Dubai, located on the outskirts of the city
Some of the fastest racing camels can run up to 65 km/h
Generally, camels are slower than horses, but trained camels on a desert track can run just as fast as a racehorse.
Camel racing is an important part of the traditional culture passed down the generations for many middle eastern Arab countries. Therefore, it is a sport that is popular in these countries, including UAE.
The emirate prohibits all forms of gambling under Article 414 of the UAE Penal Code.
Camels can be purchased at auctions and start from about AED 350,000, (approx USD 95,000) depending on the camel breed. Winning camels come at an even higher price with bids starting in millions of dollars.
This unique desert area of the city is often overlooked by guests to Dubai, but there’s plenty more than first meets the eye. Check out our guide to the Al Marmoom Desert Conservation Reserve for more information.
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