Timeframe: Life before the racetrack for camels in 1963

The sport we know today as exciting and lucrative has humble beginnings without a track in sight

Ruler of oil-rich kingdom, Shakbut Bin Sultan, inspecting camel herd outside palace.  (Photo by Ralph Crane/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
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The more favourable weather conditions means the annual camel racing season is upon us. Tracks across the country have recently begun holding a series of one-kilometre races run by one-year-old camels, in preparation for next year, when they are old enough to compete officially. The traditional sport of the region began as a social element of events such as weddings, but professional competitions took off in the 1980s.

This picture from April 1963 shows Sheikh Shakhbut bin Sultan, who was then the Ruler of Abu Dhabi, inspecting a herd outside a palace. He would have been noting the specifics of each dromedary, including its teeth, clarity of the eyes, placement of the hump and length of the legs, as well as its gait. Back then, the animals were used mainly for transportation, and ownership was a sign of prestige. Today, camels as a status symbol is unchanged, but their purpose is primarily for racing. The camels in this image likely have descendants who run on tracks across the UAE today.

The racing season continues until April, with events taking place on Friday and Saturday mornings. Most race days begin at 6am, and visitors are advised to arrive early.

Tracks in Abu Dhabi are located in the Al Wathba area; in Al Ain, they are in Al Maqam; in Dubai, at the Al Marmoom Racetrack along Dubai-Al Ain Road; Al Dhaid in Sharjah; and at Al Suwan in Ras Al Khaimah.

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