Horse vs Camel
The horse and camel racing seasons are out of the starting gates. So which is the better beast of burden? Discuss this article
- Picture 1 of 2
First, a word of warning. Do not set out for the camel races expecting an easy ride. Set your GPS for 24˚11’26”N by 54˚38’49”E and hope for the best. Only when you see a metallic space station rising from the sands of Al Wathba will you know that your journey is complete.
In truth, the trip is a large part of the fun. Follow the Al Ain road through Al Wathba (about 45 minutes from the Corniche) and look for the road signs. You’ll arrive at a sparse racing track populated with a pitiful gathering of lippy beasts. This is the Al Wathba racetrack, used for the big public holiday events. It also means you’re in the wrong place. The weekly track is further along in a barren area not dissimilar to Star Wars’ Tatooine. Inside, camels, Bedouin, trainers and more well-to-do visitors jostle around the edge of the dirt track – the sounds and smells are everything you might imagine them to be. The elaborate grandstand itself – the aforementioned space station – is virtually empty.
Despite the throng, the track itself is lacking in action. Everyone is standing around looking like they’ve nothing better to do. Other than the grandstand and the vast desert there’s nothing to see – no stalls or shops to browse; no souvenirs or burgers to be had. It’s somewhat underwhelming.
And then a shout goes up. Everyone presses up against the railings. In the distance, an apocalyptic cloud of dust looms towards you at tremendous speed. The camels lunge forwards, lips and tongues lolling back around their ears, muzzles covered in frothy spittle. Perched on their backs are tiny electronic devices, wrapped in Arabian cloth and woven into the saddle bags. Jockeys dropped from favour in 2005, when the use of children under the age of 18 was banned by the government. What we have here are their sci-fi descendants – robots, bought in from East Asia at about US$2000 a pop, operated via remote control. These robots can be made to tug on reins and wield racing whips.
Even more amazing is the sight of the frantic owners, who follow the camels along the side of the track in crowded 4x4s. Around 40 vehicles trail the animals in hot pursuit, passengers yelling and yodeling to freak
the animals to a faster pace. Can anyone join this mad train, Time Out wonders? ‘Only if you have your own 4x4,’ explains a track official. ‘If you go in a smaller car, it will not be good. Nobody sees you. They’re all watching the camels.’
The owner of the fastest camel stands to win a magnificent prize. ‘Could be a luxury car,’ the official says. ‘Yesterday it was 10 luxury cars.’ There may be as many as 15 races in a single morning, with up to 50 camels in any one race. ‘We tried more,’ he tells us, ‘but it was dangerous. Too many 4x4s.’
Camel racing at Al Wathba takes place on Thu, Fri and, occasionally, Sat, 6.30am-8.30am until April.
Time Out Abu Dhabi,
- Martial arts(8)
- Rugby & Gaelic(3)
- Al Ain(5)
- Al Bateen(2)
- Al Dhafrah(1)
- Al Ittihad(2)
- Al Khalidiyah(3)
- Al Khubeirah(2)
- Al Madina Al Riyadiya(13)
- Al Maqtaa(2)
- Al Markaziyah(4)
- Al Meena(6)
- Al Muroor(1)
- Al Mushrif(5)
- Al Nahyan(2)
- Al Raha Beach(3)
- Al Reehan(3)
- Al Wahdah(3)
- Capital City(1)
- Khalifa City(5)
- Khalifa City A(2)
- Khor Al Bateen(1)
- Madinat Zayed(2)
- Ras Al Akhdar(5)
- Saadiyat Island(2)
- Sas Al Nakhl(3)
- Sir Bani Yas(1)
- Tourist Club Area(5)
- Yas Island(3)
Most viewed outlets
Our favourite features
10 best Wi-Fi spots in Abu Dhabi The best cafes to use Wi-Fi in Abu Dhabi. Happy surfing
15 sensational Abu Dhabi hotel suites Dhs130,000 a night sure does buy a lot of luxury these days
Golden Globes 2014: Winners Who picked up an award at the movie and television awards?
Where to play golf in Abu Dhabi Yas Links, Saadiyat Beach Golf club and more places to play in Abu Dhabi
Best restaurants in Abu Dhabi revealed The winners of the Time Out Abu Dhabi Restaurant Awards are...
25 must-read books for 2014 Dominic Beesley picks some right good reads to try this year
50 best dishes in Abu Dhabi The finest foods we've eaten in Abu Dhabi in 2013
Time Out’s top 20 albums of 2013 The LPs that have stunned our socks off in the past 12 months
10 must-see movies of 2014 Get set for the return of Spider-Man, X-Men, Transformers and more
12 top things to do with visitors in Abu Dhabi Entertain even the most demanding tourist with our expert guide
50 best moments at the Abu Dhabi F1 2013 All the highlights from the track to the clubs, and the gigs to the pits