Dubai: The annual Saluki Championship at the Al Marmoum (Circle 11) racetrack near The Sevens Stadium in Dubai on Saturday was an action-packed event, with 60 salukis, including 25 from Saudi Arabia, taking part in the 13th edition of the contest.
Organised by the Hamdan Bin Mohammad Heritage Centre (HHC), the competition honours the fastest salukis (race hounds) in a series of races that pits the prized canines against each other in the ultimate test of speed and stamina.
Famous for their hunting prowess, Salukis are a traditional part of Bedouin culture.
Egged on by their breeders and owners, the sleek and graceful animals sprinted down the race track at blistering speeds with their tongues hanging out as if in anticipation as they chased their prey - a robotic gazelle held by a crane on the back of a Nissan pick-up.
This was the first time a robotic gazelle, complete with twitching tail and moving legs was used in the championship and the salukis fell for it, much to the amusement of the spectators who had come to watch the finals.
A total of six races in amateur and professional categories were held for male and female salukis which saw them clocking up to 60 kilometres per hour as they covered courses ranging from 1,000 to 2,500 metres before reaching the finish line.
Mohammad Abdullah bin Dalmook, director of corportate support at Hamdan Bin Mohammad Heritage Centre said the championship is aimed at preserving the promoting the UAE’s social and cultural heritage.
“Salukis have been a trusted companion of our ancestors for thousands of years. The tradition of hunting rabbits and gazelles with this special breed is deep-rooted in our culture and that’s what we try to safeguard and promote through the Saluki championship,” he said. It is believed the saluki emerged as a breed in ancient Mesopotamia, now modern Iraq, in the fertile crescent between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.
An Indian expat who had come to watch the championship with his family, including two children aged 12 and seven years, said he’s been attending the races for the past three years.
“I love horse and camel racing too but this is a lot more exciting,” he said. A Saluki owner who narrowly missed out on a win in the opening races said he’s disappointed but not disheartened. “Sometimes competing is more important than winning,” he reasoned.