The Dubai Camel Racing Club draws wealthy members from across the Arabian Peninsula, including Saudis, Kuwaitis, Bahrainis, as well as Emiratis.
Camel racing is a real passion for its enthusiasts, and great racing camels are as valuable as thoroughbred race horses. I was told of one camel that had recently sold for $8 million.
With this concentration of wealth, the club gives away four-wheel-drive SUVs, like Range Rovers to the winners and loans white SUVs to the camel owners, so they can participate in the race (I will explain participation in a moment).
About 15 years ago, camel racing was in crisis. Historically, camels were raced by very young, very small boys, who were from countries like Pakistan. The female camels typically used in racing simply couldn’t race with an adult jockey. They were not strong enough. Another kind of camel racing involves young camels, and they also cannot carry adult jockeys.
It became politically impossible for the Emirates to sustain traditional camel racing without suffering badly in world opinion.
However, this historic sport was saved when someone got the idea that a remote-controlled whip riding on the back of the camel could fulfill the role of jockey and be light enough for the camels to run flat out.
Technically, this is not a robot. Although that is what the camel club members call it. This is a remote controlled, single-purpose device.
Since the robot jockeys are remote controlled, the camel owners drive parallel to the dirt camel track on a multi-lane, paved road and increase or decrease the use of the whip as race strategy dictates. A walkie-talkie speaker is also attached to the robot that allows owners to communicate commands to their camels.
I watched in amazement as 30 or 40 camels were lined up just as horses would be in a horse race.