LONDON -- The humpbacked beasts of burden rumbled along the banks of the River Thames in a nation that is home to Wimbledon and Wembley: Camel racing had arrived in Britain.
Sarah and Sharifa took part in the three races of about 50 meters Thursday. Sarah won all three, galloping across Potters Field in the shadows of Tower Bridge and into the winner's circle for a champagne celebration.
"After months of training, winning was the best feeling in the world," said Andy Probert, Sarah's jockey. "This is a dream come true."
The event was staged to help promote Saracens, a London-area rugby club. Sarrie, the third of the trio of camels, is the team's mascot, but she did not participate in the races.
"It was my first time seeing a camel, let alone riding one," said Saracens player Michael Tagicakibau, who appeared at the event along with teammate Tom Mercey. "It was something quite different but I found it a comfortable experience -- although I was shaking at the start."
The stunt drew dozens of spectators. Some, like the local Southwark Tigers rugby team, knew about the event beforehand. But others stopped by -- many a bit bewildered by it all -- to glimpse of the huge animals.
The camels were led in circles behind the starting line to get them moving before the rope was raised to start the race. Sharifa, however, kept spinning even as Sarah bolted for the finish line in the final race of the day.
"She's excitable," said Sam Burton, Sharifa's rider. "And it was a difficult experience for her because she's not used to that much weight."
But when surrounded by photographers after the race, Sharifa seemed unaffected by the loss, sticking her head up to cameras and forcing some photographers to lean away.
Sarah, meanwhile, can expect a little reward for her three wins.
"Sarah will get extra apples in her feed tonight," Probert said.
The two camels will race again Sept. 12 at Wembley Stadium when Saracens faces Northampton Saints.