Salukis – blink and you’ll miss them

Bedouin hunting dogs put on a show of speed and grace at races celebrating their friendship with man and UAE culture.

Salukis race at the 10th edition of Saluki Championships at Al Marmoom.  Jeffrey E Biteng / The National
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DUBAI // Dog lovers from across the UAE, the GCC and beyond were out in force to watch man’s best friends being put through their paces at the 10th Saluki Championships.

The racecourse in Al Marmoum was packed with spectators and professional breeders, all keen to see the dogs sprinting over courses ranging from 1,000 to 2,500 metres.

Ibrahim Al Saadi made the journey from Al Ain with five salukis owned by members of the Abu Dhabi Royal Family to take part in the tournament, which was organised by the Hamdan bin Mohammed Heritage Centre, under the patronage of Sheikh Hamdan, Crown Prince of Dubai.

“I own salukis as well as being the trainer of the Sheikh’s salukis for the past 15 years,” said Mr Al Saadi, 31.

“I have a passion for this racing because it is the heritage of the UAE and the GCC.

“Salukis were used to hunt rabbits and gazelles. We are preserving this heritage by developing it to become racing.”

Hassan bin Qetamy, a saluki trainer from Dubai, took eight dogs owned by Sheikh Ahmad bin Mohammed to take part in the tournament.

“I’ve been a trainer for 15 years and I participate each year because it’s a hobby and linked to my country’s heritage,” said Mr bin Qetamy, 38. “The thing I liked most in this event was the judging panel and organisation.”

Salukis are known to be the fastest breed over long distances. In 1996, the Guinness Book of World Records listed the fastest saluki as having reached a speed of 68.8kph.

The saluki, a breed believed to have originated in China, was among the first dog breeds to be domesticated.

In the Arab world, the Bedouin have been using salukis to hunt for thousands of years.

Indian Omar bin Azmat was impressed with the speed of the dogs as they raced around the track.

“It is the second year I have come here to watch saluki races. It is exciting,” said Mr bin Azmat, 33. “Camel and horse races are the norm but dogs are different.

“I really appreciate that Sheikh Hamdan is pushing dog racing like this.”

Bulgarian Katya Iordanova, 25, a dog lover, said the animals’ stamina and speed caught her eye.

“I love dogs and love seeing sports that are related to animals,” Ms Iordanova said. “Salukis are good for long distances. I like seeing how dogs cross the finish line and the distance between the first one and the others.”

Saluki owner Charles H, 43, came to the track to check on the competition.

“I came here to watch the race because it is part of the heritage of the UAE. Also, I have owned a female saluki for eight months,” the Frenchman said.

Juma Al Muhairi, head of the Saluki Championship Committee, was impressed with the number of younger trainers and owners this year.

“This edition had surprises with new owners taking part, which means they are developing and training salukis,” he said.

“The tournament is a leisure activity for youngsters who like to train and take care of their dogs, but it also relates to UAE history.”