So when you haven't been able to travel for 13 months what do you for fun on Christmas Day? Go to the Camel Races naturally....lol.
Actually, it was kind of an organic booking. Camel racing only runs during the cooler months (November - March typically), on Fridays and Saturdays (the weekend), and about 2 weekends a month. So given we are leaving at the end of the school year, this was on the bucket list of things to do before we leave. Richard had taken some time off during the holidays, so I was trying to take advantage of his holiday. So when I saw the ads for camel racing tours, I messaged them to book ours. They were running the 25th and 26th. Richard and the teen had plans on Saturday....so Friday it was.....it just happened to be December 25th...aka Christmas (remember we are in a muslim country and that isn't really a big deal here). The day prior to the races we got a message letting us know the time to meet (given Friday is a prayer day, the races don't start until after prayer time) - we were meeting at 12:50...so not too early! As we drove out to the race track, the tour guide gave us all kinds of camel race facts! Did you know there is an annual Camel Beauty contest! Any guesses on what the prized qualities in a camel are??? (lip size -plumpers are banned- and no tattoos or scars were biggest ones).
We arrived at the race track with a few minutes to spare. Everyone had a chance to use the restroom, get some gahwa (Arabic coffee), and dates. We then got back in the bus and headed to the first race. Here's a video and then I'll explain with some photos!
So the races are run with two lanes of SUVs running on both sides of the camel track. On the back of the camel is a remote jockey. The jockey is controlled by the the owner inside the SUVs. The guide told us that horn honking doesn't start until the last 1.5-2km and the jockey whipping is typically saved for the last 1 km. If it used too soon, the camel can sometimes wear themselves out too quickly. Sometimes the lead camel remains ahead the whole time and other times a camel from behind will be motivated.
While one race is going, camels for the next race are lined up. As soon as we past the finish line, the bus driver sped back around to the starting point. We waited a minute or two and the next race started. We were on a 7 km track and each race took about 8-10 minutes. We circled around about 3 times and then got out of the bus to watch the next race at the finish line.
Camel foot print and then all the SUVs coming as the camels are racing towards us. You can see one camel turning a bit sideways. This one likely just got the whip and it got spooked. The guide said that is a risk using them, sometimes the camels will just go sideways and that doesn't do any good.
So lots of foamy mouths as they crossed the finish lines. This was apparently pretty common - though some leaders would haven't any. It's just from spit production as they are running.
Camel training prior to races involves training in swimming pools, so when running in the air versus the water it is much easier.
This camel seemed to be "singing" as it pulled up in the rear....not a care in the world...lol.
Between the races we watched at the finish line, Clarissa raced across the tracking...lol.
The one with the blue jockey is the winner!
Qatar banned the use of human jockeys in 2005, prior to that child jockeys were used. The guide asked the kids on the bus what would you do if you were riding on the back of the camel during a race? Clarissa answered "scream". He said that was the right the answer, the child jockeys did learn the proper time to scream (the last 1 km or so) and that would scare the camels to run fast. You can read more about it here.
After watching our second race cross the finish line, we then walked over to what I will describe as the "waiting area". It is where the camels who are waiting to race were sitting. When we first arrived it was packed, since 6 or races had already been run it was about half empty and by the time we left at the end of the afternoon it was empty.
I held one of the jockeys. I forget the exact weight, maybe about 4-5 pounds. Not super heavy but definitely needed both hands. It is powered by a drill battery (you know the kind for putting furniture together/making holes in things) and there is only one person in charge of inspecting, assembling, assigning the jockeys to keep everything fair. It has a receiver for getting the signal for whipping and a speaker to hear the owners voice saying "go".
We all got to pet some camels (you should be happy the internet hasn't figured out how to make scratch and sniff photos....lol).
Richard got some people pictures of the camel handlers....
Is it me or is this camel posing/smile behind its handler's shoulder?
We then walked through the field of camel mines (some of us more successfully than others) to the starting line. The camels are walked over by their handler and then hooked up the gate.
Camels kind of remind me of toddlers - all antsy and and making faces...lol.
On the outside of the gates, there are men who make sure they are lined up and legs aren't tangled (don't want any camels tripping over each other).
The gate lifts up and all the camel harnesses are released.
The camels then all take off in a mad camel dash!
We were able to watch from both sides....one side was much closer!
But the further side smelled better and had less flies....
The kids had more fun than they expected during the mandatory fun day!
Each race had 20-30 camels racing.
We watched all the races for the day and then headed back to Doha. As we were leaving we had to stop several times at the camel crossings.
The guide said the camels heading towards the tracks would be training tonight, since the day's races were over.
All in all, if you are ever in the area and it is camel racing season, it's definitely something you should put on your to do list! We went with Murex Tours.