Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 23 October 2019

Thousands flock to Dubai camel tournament

Breeders compete for high stakes with prizes totalling Dh153 million

Camels at the 38th annual Al Marmoom Heritage Festival in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National
Camels at the 38th annual Al Marmoom Heritage Festival in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National

Makhlaba the camel’s very existence proved to be luck of the draw.

Some four years ago her owner, Yahya Abdullah, entered a raffle to mate his finest Sudanese she-camel with a famed stud owned by Sheikh Hamdan bin Mohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai.

Of the hundreds of people who entered the competition, it was Mr Abdullah whose name was selected.

And so the rare opportunity arose for him to breed a camel with links to the royal family. Makhlaba was the result of that fateful meeting.

Camels at the 38th annual Al Marmoom Heritage Festival in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National
Camels at the 38th annual Al Marmoom Heritage Festival in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National

“I can’t say why I love her,” said Mr Abdullah, who at the time travelled some 500km to Dubai from his desert ranch in Al Sharqiya, Oman, to arrange the mating.

“There’s nothing particularly exceptional about her. It’s just that I love her from my heart.”

Today, Makhlaba has finally come of age and has returned to the emirate to compete in the 38th annual Al Marmoom Heritage Festival.

The prestigious meet is the final tournament in the Gulf camel race winter calendar, which traditionally runs from September through to April.

Makhlaba is one of 14,000 camels competing for prize money totalling Dh153 million. Winners are awarded everything from cash to swords, to camel saddles and luxury vehicles.

On Saturday, Makhlaba took part in a race alongside other two-year-olds as part of the festival's opening events. As the meet progresses, the camels tend to get faster and pricier, meaning potential buyers have a sharp eye out for a bargain early on.

“It’s the beginning of a camel’s racing life and so it’s the cheapest time to buy,” said Salem Hashemi, 45, a breeder from Al Sharqiya.

It is Mr Abdullah’s hope that Makhlaba will remain in Dubai following the festival.

If she does well over the next few days she could catch the eye of a sheikh, join a royal herd and receive the best training money can buy.

Camels at the 38th annual Al Marmoom Heritage Festival in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National
Camels at the 38th annual Al Marmoom Heritage Festival in Dubai. Satish Kumar / The National

On the eve of the tournament, the UAE’s camel racing federation sent a text message to owners: Sheikh Hamdan would offer Dh1.2million for the best female two-year-old, and Dh800,000 for the best male.

“That would be a fitting price for Makhlaba,” said Mr Abdullah. “Everything is prepared but nobody knows fate.”

As the sun rose over the race track on Saturday, the event was packed tight with dozens of owners and breeders drinking coffee in their 4x4s.

The majority had travelled 500km from Al Sharqiya, a region well-known for having the greatest race camel breeders in the Gulf.

“There is no man who has come here who wouldn’t sell,” said Mr Abdullah, surveying the competition at the starting line.

Makhlaba is considered a strong candidate and Mr Abdullah has cared for her since the day he delivered her.

Already she has won a Chevrolet Tahoe 4x4 in a race in Kuwait in February as well as Dh150,000 at a tournament in Saudi Arabia last month.

But the Marmoom festival is not just for the swift, it is for the strong. By the end of the season temperatures can hit 40 degrees C.

As it turned out, Makhlaba did not place in the top five but it may not matter. Every race was filmed by onlookers and scrutinised later via via social media, with the pros and cons of each young camel discussed at length between buyers.

With a bit of luck, Makhlaba will still be noticed and could yet go on to become a household name. Mr Abdulla remains optimistic. After all, Makhlaba was born lucky.

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Races run every day from now until April 18 from 6.30am until 10.00am and between 2.30pm to 5.30pm at the Al Marmoom camel race track on the Dubai-Al Ain road.

There are no races on Friday, April 12 or the morning of Thursday, April 18. A market and folk art performances will be at the Heritage Village from 6pm until 10pm.

Updated: April 6, 2019 05:42 PM

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