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Race in progress in Sheikh Category yesterday at Al Wathba camel race finals.
Race in progress in Sheikh Category yesterday at Al Wathba camel race finals.

A young man racing towards his dream

Mohammed Al Shamsi looks towards next year's camel racing season.

ABU DHABI // With the camel racing season ending in just a few days, Mohammed Al Shamsi has already begun to strategise for the next year.

Mohammed was one of hundreds who travelled across the GCC this week to the outskirts of Abu Dhabi for the final camel races. It is the last major event before the hot weather ends the official race season.

Today is day seven of the 10-day grand finale at the Al Wathbah Camel Races Finals 2013. Thousands are expected to attend or watch the televised 12 races on Tuesday, when tribesmen and sheikhs will compete for prizes that include 288 vehicles, cash and swords.

Mohammed, 16, and his father Saeed, 47, drove from Al Ain on Friday to watch live races on a TV screen from the track's air-conditioned, glass-enclosed grandstand that overlooks the finish line.

They took careful note of the competition. It is Mohammed's ambition that next year his three-year-old camel, Jabbara, will be running on the Al Wathbah track.

After each 6km race, a gold-colour profile of the winning camel flashed on the screen with its time. It is Mohammed's dream see to Jabbara's head flash on the screen in 2014.

Jabbara may have the right stuff. She is the daughter of the prolific stud and race champion Jabbar. She is a camel with ambition, said her owners. "She's very big trouble," said Mohammed, a year 11 pupil. "Her blood is hot. You can't catch her. For us, it's good."

She has already placed first at smaller races in Ajman, Ras Al Khaimah and Ibri, Oman. This is no small matter for a camel that is only one year into her professional life.

Al Wathbah is the big time.

It is a major league race for the world's swiftest camels. "The camels that don't get first, we don't take them to Al Wathbah," said Saeed.

This weekend's races were reserved for senior camels. Categories were the naya and houl camels, which are aged six and above.

The camels that raced this weekend, who were once the celebrities of their day, are expected to retire next season and drew small crowds.

Nonetheless, they performed. The veteran race champion Gharbia secured her reputation as one of the fastest camels to emerge from the Western Region.

She is one of hundreds of camels owned by Mohammed Zayed, a trainer from Madinat Zayed who made his mark in race history by naming nearly all of his 100 camels after his home territory, Al Gharbia.

Technology has defined the 2012-2013 race season as the sport edges towards modern regulation found in other racing events. This year all racing camels were required to be microchipped. Owners and camels alike were required to present ID before each race. Broadcasting took a step forward with the use of remote-control drone cameras that follow camels around the track. It provided viewers a much needed relief from the usual monotony of camels that appear to run in an unchanging straight line.

A GCC record for a four-year-old camel was set on Thursday by Shera'u, a camel owned by Sheikh Qaqa'a bin Hamad Al Thani of Qatar. She had a time of 8 minutes 48 seconds in a 6km race.

Camels like Shera'u are rewarded - at times reluctantly - by being doused in a fragrant mix of saffron, musk and the mahaleb spice on their necks and face. The festival uses 14 kilo a day, at a cost of Dh40,000 a day.

Even spectators have a chance to win prizes this year. There is a text competition where people can guess which camel will win in different age categories. Those who guess right are eligible to win one of four Range Rovers.

Thursday's races were attended by Dr Sheikh Sultan bin Mohammed, the Ruler of Sharjah, Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai, Sheikh Hamdan bin Rashid, the deputy ruler of Dubai and the Minister of Finance, the state news agency Wam reported.

The final 14-km races will be on Tuesday at 7am and 2pm for tribe-owned and sheikh-owned camels.

An out-of-season race will take place from April 21 to 26 in honour of the Qasr Al Hosn festival. More information can be found at The Camel Race Association website: www.cra.ae


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