Camels are highly revered in the UAE, and camel racing is deeply rooted in nomadic bedouin and Emirati tradition. Camels have long since been considered a source of nutrition and luxury. Camels have provided milk and meat for sustenance, wool for clothing, rugs and tents, leather for shoes, transportation for supplies, and recreational entertainment. Their dung was a great fuel, and their urine was thought to have medicinal properties. Camel racing is the epitome of their significant heritage in Ras Al Khaimah.

Camelus dromedarius

Bedouin tribes organised camel beauty pageants and races as a form of entertainment and resolving disputes. The races seen across the Emirates today are under the patronage of the ruling sheikhs. Camels native to the UAE, Oman and Sudan are used for the races. The United Arab Emirates’ Mahaliyat, Oman’s Omniyat, Sudan’s Sudaniyat, and the interbred Mahajanat camels are hand-selected by trainers. They can run great distances at 40 km per hour or up to vast speeds of 65 km for short sprints. Their name Camelus dromedarius is derived from the Greek words for running and racecourse.

 

Camel trainers hold their herds in high esteem and nurture them with a special diet of dates, bran and oats. Sometimes they are also given cows milk to provide strength and promote muscle building. Before any camel races, they must receive a full health check to ensure they are healthy.

 

Early morning races

Camel racing is an extraordinary sight. The races take place on winter Friday mornings in the Digdaga and Hamraniya area of RAK. Glorious dunes and ancient ghaff trees surround the racetrack, close to the Ras Al Khaimah airport. The races are between 06.30 and 09.30, so be prepared to be there early. It’s worth arriving at the crack of dawn to experience the mesmerising energy and excitement of the owners and trainers as they battle for luxury cars, trophies and monetary compensation, adding up to millions of dirhams. There are usually between 50 and 100 camels lumbering around waiting for their call to race.

 

Saddle up

Each dromedary is saddled with colourful tribal blankets and walk silently through the dust-filled deserts. The sun at this time of day is very low and casts elongated shadows over the dunes. Every day you’ll find trainers trotting up and down the tracks building the camel’s stamina for the big Friday race.

Each camel is outfitted with a robot jockey. The UAE prohibited human jockeys under 15 from competing in camel races almost two decades ago. 2002 saw the introduction of lightweight robot jockeys that feature a mannequin-like face, sunglasses, traditional racing silks and a hat. The electronic jockey monitors the camel’s heart rate, running speed and is enhanced with a two-way radio so that their owner or trainer can encourage the camel with familiar commands.

 

The track

The arena is split into three tracks. The camels run on the soft terracotta sands of the main track whilst the inner and outer tracks are where streams of white 4WD vehicles drive alongside their camels and shout encouragement through their radios.

Camel racing in Ras Al Khaimah is fun, dusty and a must-do on your bucket list.

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