Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Learn all about camel racing at Al Shahaniya in Qatar

Camel racing in Qatar is an integral part of its tradition and has been part of the Qatari lifestyle for centuries, though camel racing at a professional level started in the early 1970s. 

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The tradition first started at weddings as a form of entertainment; today, it’s a multi-million-dollar business and a very lucrative form of revenue. In fact, people come from all over Qatar, the Gulf region and around the world to participate or just to enjoy this competitive sport which takes place at Qatar’s renowned camel race track at Al Shahaniya. Al Shahaniya is an hour away from Doha in the desert towards the north of the country and is a must visit place.

Al Shahaniya Camel Racing Track

If you are planning on going to the Al Shahaniya Camel Racing Track, be there in the morning before 10 am so you can watch the camels being trained by experts and see them running around the track getting ready for competition season. You can also take a walk around the paddocks and see the camels in their living environment or just enjoy the view from the grandstand.

Al Shahaniya is an exciting place to spend the day, take in the desert scenery that surrounds the camel racing track and mingle amongst the grand camels of Qatar.

If you’re looking for more to do at Shahaniya, then there is a virtual camel city on the outskirts of the track which is a nice blend of the past and the present of Qatar.

Camel racing competitions

Camel racing competitions take place from October up until February every year on Fridays, and the big main competitions are in March and April. The winner is awarded the prestigious Golden Sword of the Father Emir H H Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani at the end of the camel racing festival which is well-known as H H the Emir’s Main Race. The festival and the competitions are organized by Qatar’s Camel Racing Committee with the unconditional support of Qatar’s leadership to promote this traditional sport of camel racing.

Entry to these competitions is free and they usually take place from 7 am to 2 pm.

Training camels for racing

Baby camels are taken away from their mothers when they are around 1 ½-years-old and start training for races when they are 2. Young camels are placed in the racing track with the rest of the camels and are expected to pick up the skill by just running along with the older experienced camels. Camels are trained twice a day (morning and evening) for about 45 minutes for each session. Racing camels must be able to run a minimum of 40 kilometres an hour to be eligible to race in a competition.

It’s interesting to note that it is the age of the camel that determines the length of the race it runs. Young camels between the ages of 2 and 4 can race only for 4 - 5 kilometre, 5 - 6-year-old camels race about 7 - 8 kilometres while camels older than 6 years can race for 10 kilometres.

Camels trained for racing are fed special diets to ensure they are fit and ready to race in competitions. They are usually capable of running in races for about 10 years and then they are retired to make place for younger and more fit camels.

While male camels are better known for their tasty and delicious meat, it is the female camels that are trained for racing in competitions not only because they are gentle but also because they are a lot easier than male camels to manage and control.

Robot jockeys

Ever since Qatar banned the use of child jockeys in 2004 who were used because of their age, size and weight, to race the camels, robot jockeys have been strapped to the camels backs and are racing them to victory on the race track. They are often dressed in colourful clothes to add to the festivity of the racing competitions.

These robot jockeys are controlled through a special remote control by their camel herder or the owner of the camel who may ride in a pick up alongside the camel. They are approximately 25 kilograms in weight and are vey effective in racing the camel whose back they are riding.

How to get to Al Shahaniya

The Al Shahaniya Camel Racing Track can be found on the Doha – Dukhan highway and is about an hour away from the down town area of Doha. When you take the Dukhan highway from the Al Rayyan area, drive about 35-40 kilometres down it. When you pass the Al Rayyan football stadium, drive along for a few minutes till you reach a roundabout. Take the first exit on the roundabout and drive on till you reach the Oryx sign. Turn left and you will see a signboard that reads ‘Camel Race”. You have arrived at the Al Shahaniya Camel Race Track.

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