Every visitor to the Middle East should ensure that on at least one occasion they should enjoy the amazing spectacle that is camel racing.
It used to be the traditional desert sport of Bedouin tribes and involved thousands of animals speeding across the open desert.
Today, the desert racing rules have been modified for modern racetracks, and camel races are held at the King Fahd International Stadium every Monday during the winter months.
The annual King’s Camel Race, instituted in 1974, quickly became one of the world’s most important camel events. Between 20,000 and 30,000 spectators usually attend these races.
Camel races are also the traditional start of the National Heritage and Culture Festival at Janadriyah, held every February, when more than 2,000 camels and their riders compete for top prizes.
A winning camel can be worth many thousands of riyals to its owner and competition between the camel owners is intense. At large meetings camels from other Gulf countries are brought to challenge one another. Huge prizes of cars or money reward the winner. No betting is allowed at the track as Islam prohibits this.
Camel races are a test of endurance. The tracks are oval shaped and races are usually between 10 to 14 kilometres.
Before a race, camels are gathered together in huge pens where they are sorted into different categories such as male and female and by age. They will have been exercised every day for weeks before a race to ensure they are in good condition.
Racing camels are also fed a special rich diet to build up their muscles, but for a few days before each race they are given little food as it is felt they perform better on an empty stomach.