CAMEL racing at the traditional Cotley Point to Point steeplechase on Sunday (March 30) has been declared an outstanding success by the organisers.
A bumper crowd of over 2,500 people attended the camel and horse races, which together with the Cotley Hedge Laying and Vintage Tractor Ploughing Competitions held the previous day raised £5,500 for the Dorset and Somerset Air Ambulance charity.
Cotley Point to Point Chairman Tom Eames, who has taken over the role this year from his father Vyvyan Eames, said: "We believe it's the first time camel racing has taken place at a point to point race meeting in Somerset and it has really captured people's imaginations here in Somerset.
"Everyone has been talking about the camel racing for weeks now and the attendance level of our point to point was up 60 per cent despite it being Mothering Sunday."
The camels in action.
Families from across the West Country flocked to watch both Bactrian (two humps) and Dromedaries (one hump) camels steered by enthusiastic jockeys wearing colourful Arabian costume gallop across the ancient Cotley turf in glorious sunshine.
The camel races were held before the main horse racing event and the four camels who took part were all extremely well behaved and were happy to be petted and admired by people.
The camels are bred and specially trained by Rebecca and Joseph Fossett of Warwickshire based Joseph's Amazing Camels and it was clear that, on this their first outing of the season, the camels were more than ready for action.
"People tend to think of camels as not being particularly fast," said Rebecca Fossett, "but in fact they are pretty speedy. We have clocked them doing 25 mph on the beach."
All the jockeys had to raise a minimum of £150 in sponsorship in order to secure their place on a camel. But such has been the appeal of the camel racing, many of the riders raised in excess of £500 each. Somerset businesses also queued up to support the camels with sponsorship.
Veterinary surgeon Nicola Eisenhauer, 25, of the Kingfisher Veterinary Practice said: "When I agreed to race a camel, I thought my boss was joking."
Nicola was entered in the hotly contested Somerset Vets Race, sponsored by Courtash Property Developers, which was won by rival vet Tessa Porter, 53, of Coombefield Veterinary Hospital on King Faisal's Pet.
Laura Cozens, 25, who won the best dressed jockey prize in the Ladies Race, which was sponsored by local pub the Cotley Inn said: "The camel racing was a good laugh and tested my balance. I entered because we were raising money for a good cause and I thought why not?"
Emma Knight, 23, from Chard, who raced against Laura said: "I've always wanted to ride a camel; I saw the camel racing as a one-off challenge, as well as being great fun and for a worthy cause."
"We've had an excellent turnout for the horse racing, too, with a lot of support from both local and top trainers, said Tom. "
Joshua Newman, fresh from his success at Cheltenham, won the Open Maiden on his family trained, homebred bay mare Tikkeche. The Herrod, Legg and Symes families, who are all Cotley supporters, had multiple entries on the day.
At the other end of the spectrum, 12 keen riders (under 16 years of age) took part in the pony racing and it was a joy to see the beaming faces of these young jockeys who are the future of racing."
Leading Point to Point trainer Richard Barber, who had a winner in the Restricted race with the 6 year old bay gelding Pure Oxygen (ridden to victory by Will Biddock) was among the crowds watching the camel racing and said: "It was good to see so many people there. The Cotley is a nice friendly little local hunt and by offering traditional steeplechasing as well as camel racing, which is immensely popular in the Middle East, they provided the perfect entertainment for the masses on Mothering Sunday."
Results of Cotley Point to Point Camel Races: Race 1, Local Ladies: Winner - Stephanie Lloyd Foxe on The Sinai Solicitor, sponsored by Humphries Kirk Solicitors. Best dressed jockey - Laura Couzens.
Race 2, Point to Point Members : Winner - Nickie Ayres on Bedouin's Machinery, sponsored by Bredy Agricentre. Best dressed jockey - Ben Lund on Persian Hearse, sponsored by Gibbs Funeral Services.
Race 3, Somerset Vets: Winner - Tessa Porter on King Faisal's Pet, sponsored by Coombefield Veterinary Hospital. Best dressed jockey - Matthew Board, Synergy Farm Health.
Race 4, Cotley Hunt Supporters: Winner - Ryan Kuszek on Saladin-din, sponsored by Riverside Feeds. Best dressed jockey - Kate Sopwith.
Results of Cotley Point to Point Horse Races: Hunt Members (3 ran) 1. Steeltown (IRE) (J Mathias, 1-3F); 2. Rush’N’Roll (IRE) (M Legg, 7-2); 3. Lajidaal (USA) (D Andrews, 7-2). 6min 46. 20l, 8l. (Kayley Woollacott) Countryside Alliance Club Members Conditions (8 ran) 1. Arthurian Legend (Z Baker, 5-4F); 2. Kostaquarta (IRE) (J Barber, 12-1); 3. Level Spirit (IRE) (J Newman, 3-1). 6min 32. 4l, 6l. (Paul Thompson) Open Maiden 4, 5, 6 & 7 year olds 2m4f (7 ran) 1. Templeton (IRE) (Jamie Thomas, 4-1); 2. Bit Of Crack (IRE) (N Williams, 5-2); 3. Grey Dream (FR) (M Legg, 4-1). 5min 54. 4l, 20l. (Kayley Woollacott).
Mixed Open (4 ran) 1. Bellflower Boy (IRE) (B Robarts, 4-6F); 2. Dandooley (M Woodward, 10-1); 3. Checkerboard (IRE) (Jamie Thomas, 7-4). 6min 50. 5l, nk. (Stuart Sampson) Restricted (11 ran) 1. Pure Oxygen (IRE) (W Biddick, 1-2F); 2. Johnny No Cash (IRE) (Miss E MacMahon, 4-1); 3. Soul Native (Miss L Scott, 5-1). 6min 33. 2l, 20l.
Open Maiden (5 ran) 1. Tikkeche (J Newman, 7-4); 2. Big Mick (IRE) (T Hampton, 5-1); 3. Just Imagine It (W Biddick, 4-5F). 6min 46. 15l, 25l. (Chloe Newman)