Al Shahaniya Camel Racetrack
Camel racing, traditionally known as the sport of the sheiks continues even today in the small hamlet of Al Shahaniya, where Qatar’s popular camel racetrack is situated. Visitors are charmed with an exceptional prospect to view the fiercely competitive and one of the most expensive sporting events in Qatar. Al-Shahaniya racing track, an hour's drive into the gleaming desert outside north of downtown Doha, holds domestic and international tournaments on Fridays from November to February. Professional Camel racing started in Qatar in 1972 although it is their traditional sport and the camel race track is a must see for those who visit Doha.
With remote controlled robot camel jockeys, this unique clash of modern and ancient sport delights locals and tourists as toddler-sized robotic riders clothed in a colourful racing silks ride lanky creatures across the sands. Camel racing is a popular amusement attraction and sport in Qatar. There is a regular flow of camels going to and from the track during the race season. The race distances vary by tournament, but each race not often exceeds five kilometres. However races in the main festival run over distances of 6, 8 and 10 kilometres.
More than 6000 camels from Qatar and elsewhere in the GCC participated in The Al-Shahaniya festival last year to win various valuable prizes such as golden and silver daggers in addition to the sword of HH the Emir which is awarded to the winner of the final event of the festival – HH the Emir’s Main Race. The festival is held under the sponsorship of the race’s organizing committee and his highness Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Faysal Al Thani. Shell has signed a contract with the Hejen racing committee to sponsor HH the Emir’s Main Race.
Camel racing is traditional sport of Qatar which they inherited from their ancestors and it appeals to young people in the Gulf in general and Qatar in particular. Camel racing is also a costly leisure pursuit that few can afford because some breeds cost more than the most lavish cars in the planet, with prices reaching as high as one million Qatari riyals. Several camel races are held in Qatar and other Gulf countries every year which attracts passionate crowds of citizens, tourists and dignitaries. Contestants fight for expensive prizes and the most precious prize is the Golden Sword awarded at the end of the year at the Al-Shahaniya track in Doha.
Camel breeders need a large tract of land which is appropriate for breeding and are able to cover feed costs because the price of camel feed is always increasing. There is also the cost of (artificial) insemination for some breeds of camels, which could be very high. Passionate Camel breeders from Qatar also fly to other countries to have it artificially inseminated as they consider it was a small price to pay considering the potential returns they could earn from a purebred camel.
The first set of camel races begins in October in Al shahaniya, the launching point for a racing season that continues with local tournaments every Friday till February and the big events occur in March and April. Until recently, kids as young as four years old were used as jockeys. After the Qatari government issued a diktat in 2004 because of safety risks that banned the use of kids, remote controlled robot jockeys replaced child jockeys.
The robot jockeys are remarkably easy but effective devices. The electronic jockeys weigh about 25 kilos and right now it costs about five and a half thousand dollars. The operator can apply the whip antenna to spin remotely and they can be commanded to 'pull' on the reins, also the operator can also throw verbal abuse at the camel via the built in speaker. Professional camel racing is a big deal in Qatar and these camels can run at speeds of up to 40 mph in short sprints and can carry on to 30 mph for an hour.
The camel racing tournaments have become a Qatari hallmark and entice crowds from outside the country, especially tourists who arrive during the tournament season. The races have now become international in every sense of the word.
How to go?
Al Shahaniya Camel Race Track is located off the main Duhkan- Doha road around an hour drive from down town Doha. Take the Dukhan road from Rayyan, about 35 - 40 kilometres. After the Al Rayyan football stadium, take the first exit in the roundabout in few kilometres and when the Oryx sign is reached, turn left. (There is a signboard that says "Camel Race")
Things to Remember
Try to get there around 9.30 am when the camels are training which is done every day.
Visitors can use the empty car park if they go early in the morning, stroll around the paddocks and sit leisurely at the grandstand. Leaning in the racetrack railings and watching groups of camels charging round the race track at breakneck speed will be exciting.
Just outside the racetrack, there is a virtual camel city. The town is a pleasant blend of past and present and a great place to spend the day and snap a few pictures.
Make sure to wear relaxing clothes and shoes, this is not the Kentucky Derby.
Al Shahaniya Race Track: +974 44 87 2028