BOWLING : Man and beast, toiling together as they have through the ages in the arid Madura countryside. When the ploughing is done in this harsh poor place, farmers turn to their one passion -- the traditional sport of bull racing, called Karapan Sapi. It's the night before the bull racing finals -- the biggest event of the year. These fine specimens are among the favourites. They're already district champions, and now they're being primed for greater victory.
The handlers are preparing a strange potion. Dozens of eggs are added to a dark concoction of herbs, honey and rice wine. It's usual to feed these bulls a hundred eggs a day. The devilish potion is forced down the bull's throat. Then it's time for a wash down and a massage. Nothing can be left to chance. A local shaman called a Dukun bestows the bulls with magical winning powers. Later, in private, the Dukun puts a curse on all the other competitors. Trouble is, other teams are performing the same rituals, the same sort of magical spoiling tactics.
Race day is a spectacle. The bulls are not just judged on their racing ability, but also their beauty and poise. Gamelan music is played to reinforce any magical spells, and to excite the bulls. When it's time for the races to begin, everyone's on edge. The creatures settle. The starter gives the signal. And they're off. It's a free for all down a straight track. The jockeys appear to have little control. And it's all over in a flash. The best time over 100 metres is just nine seconds -- faster than any Olympic sprint champion.
The real nitty-gritty of bull racing takes place at the starting line. Close up and personal, you discover the cruel side of the sport. Sticks and spikes on a red raw hide. A devilish contraption applied to where it really hurts. And that's salt being rubbed into the wounds. There's little magic going on here. Wielding the whip is Haji Imam Tawil, the owner of five past champions. He's a rich man from bull racing. It's all about the fine muscles in the neck and the back which need careful massage, he says. No mention of the prodding and poking at the rear end to work the creatures into a frenzy. He says picking the right jockey is important too.

TAWIL : That's special. It's really, really special - because not every bull is the same. It depends on the bull - such as mine. I have a special jockey - if someone else rides my bull it will be slower.

BOWLING : The jockeys are village boys picked for their courage. These are youngsters who dream of making the big time. Ten year old Yanto has been training all season, surviving countless spills and winning races. Today it's make or break in a tough field. Which is the best?

BOOKIE : I think this is the best.

BOWLING : Definitely?

BOOKIE : Not definitely - but perhaps! It if runs fast it will win.

BOWLING : Well, it's worth a punt, and there are plenty of bookies ready to take my money. The idea is to simply place a bet on the bull wearing the colour red or yellow. I try to place a bet on red. They're off. Red crosses first, but when I return to collect my winnings, the bookies insist I put my money on yellow.

BOWLING : I've done my dough, and in this crowd there's no point arguing. The grand final race is now just minutes away, and the teams are preparing. Yanto has made it through. He's nervous but determined. For the bulls there's more torture. That's hot mentholated balm being rubbed where no hand should go. This creature is being literally fired up -- even the eyes are blinded by hot liniment. All set now and racing. Yanto wins. He's now a local hero. The winning team's in bull racing heaven as the celebrations begin. The winner's cup is held high. And the bulls? There'll be no more hot liniment, potions or prodding for these champions. They'll be put out to stud to enjoy a life of bovine bliss.
© 2019 Journeyman Pictures
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