Horse racing jockeys experience their first camel race.
Australia’s first outbreak of equine flu this past August saw racing stop across the nation and thousands of recreational horses quarantined on properties to try and stop the flu spreading.
City officials had imposed an indefinite ban on racing, which left racetracks abandoned and losing millions of dollars in revenue and punters desperate to place a bet.
Australia’s horse-racing circuit may have hit a bump after equine influenza paralyzed the pool of steeds this year, but it’s not a hump the industry couldn’t get over.
Pat Farmer encourages his camel
as he rides his mount to a win in the second race.
In October, Sydney hosted its first camel race with contenders such as Sir Hump-a-lot, Sand King and Speed Hump competing to help arenas suffering financially from the ban on horse racing imposed by officials over the equine flu.
The camels were among six beasts that competed in seven races at Sydney’s Harold Park Paceway.
Even though spectators were not able to place bets on the races — camel racing is not recognized by Australia’s premier betting organization TAB — the event expected to attract 10,000 people.
“People haven’t been out and about and they’re just wanting to get out and see something race,” said Harold Park’s food and beverage manager Robert Vine. “I think it’s probably the novelty, something not many people have ever seen in Sydney before.”
Camel racing, which started in Australia more as a tourist attraction than a professional sport, usually takes place on outback racetracks. Australian camel racing jockeys are mostly women, unlike the Middle East, where boy jockeys are the norm, and camels race in sprints, not long distance races.
Cameleer Lionel Keegan stands with one of his charges at Sydney’s first camel race meet
Camels were first brought to Australia from Afghanistan in the early 1800s to help build major railway and telegraph lines in the outback. They were also used extensively for exploration purposes and as a pack animal.
By 1895 the camel population had increased to approximately 6,000 head and today the population is estimated at up to 150,000 animals.