Sunday, July 23, 2006

The wacky Camel Cup

The Alice Springs Camel Cup is one of the highlights of the annual Outback social season. This is pretty much what it sounds like: A day of camel races. Unlike other races on the Outback camel-racing circuit (yes, there is one!), the Alice race is all about charity, with no prize money or betting.

The Camel Cup takes place each July on the third weekend. I couldn't be there, but fellow camel trekkers Carol Hardy and Narissa Andrew, two Aussie nurses, were on the scene and sent this report.


The first camel cup races was held in 1970 when a couple of mates raced their camels after a pub argument up the infamous Todd river. Like most rivers in central Australia, the Todd River is a dry river bed with the exception of flooding. Rumour has it, one of the riders rode a cow instead of a camel, and had its calf at the finish line; obviously he won!

Today the Camel Cup races attract competitors and spectators from around the globe. The annual event draws around 5,000 people a year and is expected to raise more than $30,000, which is put back into the local community. Unlike other camel races around the country, this one is purely fundraising -- which also makes it a completely fun day.

One of the most unexpected things at these races is that there was no bookie. In Australia, "A race with no betting" sounds like a "pub with no beer."

Having ridden camels and knowing how much they just do there own thing regardless what instructions you try and give them, we wondered how the riders who are not all that experienced in cameleering would go. While some did well, others entertained the crowd imensely.

The start of the first race was a hilarious sight. The camels all sit at the start line -- no easy achievement in itself. HOOSH!! (This basically means, "Down Camel!")

As the starting horn sounded, the camels were off in all directions; some sprinting to the finish line, some bucking in circles. Some took off in a 180 degree direction; a few lost their jockeys and some got half way and decided it was a nice day for a stroll although the rider made every effort too change the camel's mind. As you know, Jane, its not easy to get a camel to do what you want it to do.

Shorty [a retired military man we'd met previously at Camels Austral camel farm], was the camaleer king of the day, taking home the Imparja Cup sponsored by local media. He does take his racing very seriously! Neil Waters from Camels Australiaowned many camels the jokeys were riding for the day. Neil says its all about the personality of the camel, the winning is not so important.

Between races races there was a lot to amuse us: Mr. and Miss Camel Cup. Rickshaw rally, which is like a trot race with people, and even an event for the young, hobby horse (camel) races.

The Honeymoon Handycap was the day's highlight. It starts as a normal race with a male jocky (the groom) but stops half way round the track - HOOSH! - so the men can pick up their brides, then finish the race. A good laugh!

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