It was a fine Sunday morning, and the third race for Thoroughbred Arabians had just ended. Then came something new. Five haughty racing camels, the aseils of cameldom, paraded to the post at the Royal Racing Club of Amman, Jordan. Their short ears, deep chests, slim flanks and obliquely angled knock-knees were everything admirers of good camel flesh could ask for. An enthusiastic crowd had already shown its appreciation by betting heavily in 100-fils pieces (28¢ each) at the parimutuel windows.
This was the beginning of the first organized camel racing season in Jordan. The idea originated with racing authorities who had become alarmed at the decline of Jordan's camel population (down to 45,000) and the deterioration of the breed.
The Royal Club track at Amman measures 1,200 meters, and the race was over 1,800 meters, or roughly a mile and a furlong.
The start was slow, all the camels ambling ponderously, the riders swaying on their wooden saddles six feet above the ground. The exception was a dark little Bedouin named Ouden Sleiman riding Al-Yatima; he used no saddle at all. As the camels passed the packed stands, the racers voiced their contempt for humanity with a chorus of groans, screams, gargles, roars and moans. At the first curve the pace was noisy but slow. At the mile, however, the camels were running at full momentum—which, in a good camel, is about half as fast as the fastest horses. (Camels can beat horses over long distances.) Passing the stand, they were bunched, their necks outstretched, flat feet thudding on the parched red earth. The riders now unhooked their legs from their pommels, pounded their heels into their camels' ribs and thwacked their necks with long wooden crops.
Bouncing on his gunny sack, Ouden booted Al-Yatima home, winner by a neck. But it was a long neck, and Al-Yatima paid her happy backers 42¢ for 28¢ while Ouden collected 16,000 fils ($45) and the congratulations of admirers for owning such a fine camel. Said Ouden, "She belongs to my wife. If I owned her, I'd have sold her long ago."
AS CAMELS PARADE TO POST TO START SEASON IN JORDAN, BETTORS LOOK FOR SPEED CHARACTERISTICS SUCH AS KNOCK-KNEES
AT START OF RACE, IMPERIOUS CAMELS SEEM TO BE DISDAINFUL OF WHOLE IDEA
Thundering to finish of mile-and-furlong race, camels are traveling at pace about half as fast as race horses. Al-Yatima, with Jockey Sleiman up, had forged ahead at this point to win in a fast 4 minutes 30 seconds.
Knowing Crowd admires and is amused by specially bred camels which have been segregated from working animals to prevent crossbreeding. Pedigrees of best racers are memorized and handed from father to son.
Grasping Backers of Al-Yatima lean through pari-mutuel windows to collect 150 fils for every 100 fils bet, or 42¢ for 28¢. Jordanian betting was brisk despite gamblers' axiom that only a camel knows its own mind.
High on camel, jubilant rider Ouden celebrates after victory. He rode Al-Yatima, owned by wife, like an acrobat, eschewed heavy wooden saddle used by others for a light gunny sack. His earnings came to $45.