There will be an unusual sight in the Somerset countryside tomorrow when camels will be seen thundering down the home straight at a popular point-to-point.
The humped creatures, more typically seen in the Middle Eastern desert, are taking part in four races at Cotley Hunt point-to-point near Chard, with local vets, hunt members and other wannabe camel jockeys on their backs.
Fancy dress will be the order of the day for the riders with all funds raised from the camel racing going to the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance.
The camels, from Joseph’s Amazing Camels in Warwickshire, have been invited along by organisers Cotley Hunt, which holds just one point-to-point meet a year.
The idea came from hunt chairman Tom Eames, who tried camel racing himself a few years back.
“I got volunteered by a good friend of mine to have a go before a hunt ball up near Taunton,” said Tom. “I thought I was doing well until the camel decided that instead of going left it would go sharp right! You start off feeling like you are the one in control, but then you realise that it’s the camel who is in control.”
Tom, who farms the land around the point-to-point course set up by his grandparents some 60 years ago, said he hoped camels would draw in the crowds.
“We did a charity flat race last year and that seemed to go down really well, and so we have taken it up a notch here,” he said. “We want to encourage as many people as possible to come point-to-point racing, as it’s a great sport, which people of all ages can enjoy – and I don’t think camels have been seen at a point-to-point in Somerset before.
“We’ve got four camel races, each with four camels competing, and we’ve been inundated with riders willing to raise sponsorship to be jockeys, and from businesses wanting to sponsor the camels.
“In fact we received so many applications that we increased the number of races from three to four. We are hoping to raise over £4,000 for Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance from both the camel racing and the Cotley Hedge Laying Competition, which is taking place the day before the point-to-point.”
The fundraising effort is a thank-you to the air ambulance, which attended a fatal accident involving the hunt last year. “Whenever someone falls off at hunting, the helicopter gets called,” said Tom. “It costs an amazing amount of money to keep them going.”
The camels, which start
the day’s proceedings from 11.30am, are travelling down to Somerset by lorry from their home in Warwickshire with owners Rebecca and Joseph Fossett.
“They will do their racing, and then I believe they will be by the lorry for the rest of the day, so the public can go and have a look,” said Tom. “I’m not entirely sure if you would want to pet them – that remains to be seen!”
The camels all need to be given names, to feature on the race card, and bets are invited.
“I don’t think the bookies will take any odds, though,” said Tom. “Unfortunately the camel which wins the first race will probably win all the others as well, but it doesn’t matter – the plan is for everyone to have a bit of fun.”
Cotley point-to-point has provided an excellent training ground for some of the best amateur jockeys including Jim Culloty, Polly Gundry and Ryan Mahon, who in 2011 rode at the Cotley Point-to-Point and in the Grand National.