Pets Wins Prizes – Weird Animal Races You Can Wager On
You name it, humans will bet on it. And with the flat racing season in full swing, now's a fun time to look at the beasts other than horses and greyhounds that people have pitted against one another for reasons of wagering.
I – Camel (Camelus Dromedarius)
The Sam Peckinpah western Ride The High Country kicks off with a dromedary camel winning a horse race. What might have been an unusual sight in the American west has been going on for centuries in the Middle East. In Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Egypt and the Emirates, camel races remain a very big deal. Capable of running at 25mph for upwards of 60 minutes, camels are perfectly adapted for racing and while they’re not the easiest beasts to manoeuvre, the controversial use of child jockeys is being phased out – remote controlled robotic whips are now the preferred means of control. If you’re looking to visit the mecca of camel racing head not for Saudi but Alice Springs, the home of the Camel Cup. Dromerdaries were first brought to Australia by gold prospectors and their feral cousins have flourished in the deserts of Down Under. Take in Queensland’s Boulia Desert Sands and you’ll be experiencing the richest race in the camel racing calendar worth $25,000 AUS.
II – Cockroach (Periplaneta Australasiae)
While you’re in Australia, you should be sure to catch the magnificent spectacle that is coackroach racing. As with camel racing, it isn’t an event unique to one particular region. In this instance, however, the country where the ‘sport’ originated is still the one in which it is most hotly pursued. Brisbane’s Stony Bridge Hotel is the spiritual home of cockroach racing for it was here on 26th January 1982 that roaches were first pitted against one another. With a couple of barflys convinced that Brisbane’s critters were the fastest in the country a race was arranged for Australia Day where a beast rejoicing in the name ‘Soft Cocky’ came out on top. Nowadays, you can wager on roaches all over the world, with the craze enjoying particular popularity in the United States. But it was the Aussies who came up with the idea of chalking a six metre ring on the floor, grouping a clutch of cockroaches under a glass and then lifting it to see which one could reach the edge of the circle first.
III – Common Garden Snail (Helix Aspersa)
By now, you won’t be surprised to learn that you can bet on competitive snail racing in Australia. If you’re keen to sample the ‘sport’ at its purest, you need only head as far as Congham, Norfolk, as it’s there that the World Snail Racing Championships have been held since the 1960s. Moved to create the event after watching snails being raced in France – where they actually eat the winner – Tom Elwes oversaw the ‘running’ of the championship until his death in 2007. Perhaps fittingly, that year’s iteration of the race had to be cancelled due to a waterlogged course. East Anglia’s reputation as the home of es-car-got sport has been reinforced by events like the Grand Championship Snail Race which was first staged in 1982 in the fittingly-monikered hamlet of Snailwell. As for which snails make the best racers, Tom Elwes was always keen to champion the common garden snail and while larger gastropods are used overseas, if it’s speed you’re interested in, British is best.
IV – Ostrich (Struthio Camelus)
Ostriches are amazing. The world’s largest bird, they’re also the only avian with two toes on each foot and they boast the biggest eye-ball of any land vertebrate. All this and they can be raced against one another competitively. Whether towing carts a la trotting ponies or carrying jockeys, ostrich racing is a big deal across Africa in general and South Africa in particular. There’s also a popular ostrich festival held annually in Chandler, Arizona, and semi-regular race meets in Florida, Nevada, Louisiana and Kentucky. Should you be tempted to take an active role in riding these beasts, beware – ostriches are capable of killing a man with a single blow. Indeed, before he was spirited away in 2007, country and western legend Johnny Cash was nearly disembowelled by an ostrich in 1983. And as for how hard they are to ride, the BBC journalist Michael Buerk very nearly broke his back after mounting up at an African ostrich farm.
V – Cheetah (Acinonyx Jubatus)
The world’s fastest land mammal, cheetahs are unique among cats in being unable to retract their claws. It’s perhaps because of this that the Persians assumed cheetahs were a variety of dog. It was at venues created for dogs, meanwhile, that English eccentric Arthur Leggett proposed to stage cheetah racing in the UK. The owner of Romford Greyhound Stadium, Leggett brought the cats over from Kenya with the aim of increasing attendance figures. The cheetahs debuted at a big pre-Christmas meet in 1937, at which it became apparent that, while they were incredibly quick, the animals couldn’t corner particularly well. Add to this concerns from local residents over the wisdom of racing big cats in urban Essex and Leggett was obliged to curtail the enterprise before it had really begun. Cheetah racing isn’t entirely a thing of the past, though, with the likes of Usain Bolt having faced off against felines to find out exactly how fast they are.