The Grand National at Aintree isn’t the only place to lay down a wager or show off a new hat… our invited author takes a look at five great events that take place around the world, from Scotland to down under.
With sleek thoroughbreds galloping at speeds of up to 40mph, ladies dressed to the nines in extravagant hats and huge bets being placed by the punters in the premier enclosures, horse racing is one of the most glamorous sporting events you can attend. But, whether you’re travelling on a Champagne or a Cava budget, there’s a horse race to fit. And, it’s not just about the horses; people watching in the crowd can give you a real insight into a new country or culture. Here are just a few of the most interesting, most exciting racing events to buy tickets for across the globe.
The Palio of Siena
Unlike any horse racing event in the world, the Palio of Siena is a bareback horse race around a square in a medieval town in Tuscany, Italy. The twice-yearly spectacle, which has taken place since the mid 1600s, attracts thousands of spectators to the Piazza del Campo in the middle of the town. Ten of the city’s districts are represented by a horse and jockey in each race. You can view for free in the centre of the square but you’ll have to be there hours before the start to get a place. If booking tickets, expect to pay upwards of 160 euros for a seat, or you can pay one of the home owners with a balcony overlooking the square to watch the race. Hotel rooms get booked months, if not years in advance, and are double the price of other times of year. The Palazzo Bizzarri in nearby Serre di Rapolano is a good mid-budget option. But, with just two guest rooms, you have to get in quick to secure this tiny B&B.
The Melbourne Cup
Australia as a nation is said to come to a standstill to watch the much-anticipated Melbourne Cup. Held in November at Flemington racecourse, The Melbourne Cup attracts crowds of more than 100,000 and the day is declared a public holiday in Victoria so everyone can watch. One of the most fashionable racing events in the world, women traditionally dress in black and white for Derby Day. If you’re travelling with children, Stakes Day, which closes the carnival, is the unofficial family day of the event.
Coral Scottish Grand National
While all eyes have been on the Grand National south of the English border, the Coral Scottish Grand National is just as exciting. The richest racing event in Scotland, it boasts 16 races, with prize money of more than £350,000. And, because Ayr Racecourse sits on Scotland’s stunning west coast, you could combine a day out at the races with a holiday exploring the beautiful beaches and castles of Ayrshire. Parkdean’s Sundrum Castle caravan park is just a 15-minute drive away from the race course and only four miles from stunning sandy beaches.
Dubai World Cup
Relatively new on the racing circuit, the Dubai World Cup, is not just a horse race but a completely unique spectacle. The stakes are high, with a purse of around $11m and the presence of Dubai’s ruler Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al Maktoum, a major figure on the horse racing circuit, only adds to the glamour. You’ll see mind-boggling displays of wealth as punters arrive via helicopter before snapping up expensive bottles of Champagne to toast their win, or drown their sorrows. And, the race is as much about the fashion as the racing, with prizes for the best dressed racegoers.
Man vs Horse
Surely one of the most unusual horse races in the world, Wales’ Man vs Horse event in Llanwrtyd stemmed, as so many crazy ideas do, from a conversation in a bar. The then landlord of the Neuadd Arms Hotel, Gordon Green, overheard two men talking about whether horses or people were better at running over mountainous terrain. He decided to put it to the test, starting the event in 1980. The course has since been altered to make it more of a competition with runners and riders traversing hilly farm tracks, forestry roads and open moorland. You could even stay in the Neuadd Arms Hotel itself, where the idea for the event was first discussed over a pint or two.
Whichever event you opt for, few experiences beat the excitement and exhilaration offered at one of the world’s greatest, or craziest, horse races.