Racing enthusiasts get the humps

IT may seem like something more suited to the wilderness of the desert, but camel racing came to a rain-hit Welsh city yesterday.


The sport, which is popular in the Middle East and parts of India, Australia and Mongolia, was on show for the first time in Swansea at a classic car rally in the city’s Singleton Park.


It was seen by more than a thousand bemused, but enthusiastic, local people who used their Bank Holiday off to watch four jockeys dressed Lawrence of Arabia-style ride up and down on animals more used to sandstorms than rainstorms.


The event took place in a park situated just a stone’s throw from Swansea’s more traditional sporting venues.


But, unlike the world of camel racing in Bangladesh – where small children are strapped to the camels and the more they scream the faster the animals run – camel racing in Wales is a lot more above board.


“This is nothing but a bit of fun,” said race organiser Rebecca Fossett, 38. “It’s a bit of a laugh but the riders, and especially the camels, can get very competitive.” And, despite involving animals that are notoriously bad tempered, noisy and emit smells reminiscent of rotting cabbage, the racing went very successfully.


“As usual Humphrey won – he always seems to and we’ve stopped taking bets on him,” said Mrs Fossett.


“Sometimes he can play up and be naughty at the start which can be quite entertaining but on the whole I think camels have a bad reputation which is undeserved.


“On the whole they are quite good and not nearly as troublesome as people think,” she said.


“They don’t have much steering or brakes so they can be difficult to ride and very wobbly at first. Only once have they started fighting before a race,” she added.


Two-humped Humphrey, ridden by a professional Togel jockey named “Otto of Arabia”, can run between 25-30mph but racing camels in the Middle East can reach speeds in excess of 40mph – the same as a race horse.


“We don’t push them too hard,” said Mrs Fossett.


“They’re not exactly in their natural climate and it’s only really for entertainment.


“It’s just a matter of making sure they don’t get up to too much argy-bargy when they get excited,” she said.


Humphrey, who stands eight feet tall, has also been ridden by some of the most famous champion jockeys in the business including Tony McCoy, Marcus Armitage and Richard Johnson.


He will be in Swansea, with his competitors Calish, Cleo and Omar, until Wednesday when they return to their home in Stratford-Upon-Avon for some much needed rest.