Horse racing in Mauritius: a personal love affair!

In the year of 1810, shortly after Mauritius had fallen into the hands of the British, a peace-seeking English Colonel by the name of Draper came up with an unusual idea. Aiming to pacify the hostile French population, who had been defeated but still kept up a rather rebellious attitude, the inventive Mister Draper yearned to organise horse races as a means to cease animosities between the descendants of two countries who had long been rivals and fought many wars. His idea fell on fertile grounds and was immediately accepted by island governor Sir Robert Farquhar. And so just 2 years later, in 1812, the Mauritius Turf Club saw its founding day. Not long thereafter, the Champ de Mars racecourse was inaugurated and a new era began on this tropical island, as Mister Drapers' idea was indeed very well received and has added excitement to island life ever since.
So thanks to an unusual English gentleman and his noble ideas, the Mauritius Turf Club today is not only the oldest horse-racing club in the Southern Hemisphere, but actually one of the oldest in the world. Situated in the centre of Port Louis, the island's capital, the Champ de Mars serves as a parking place during the week and on weekends magically transforms into a main attraction with people coming from afar to see the races. As the MTC is situated virtually in the middle of the capital city, early risers gather regularly to watch the training sessions which take place from 5 to 8 am or just come by to admire the horses and decide on whom to bet next weekend.

Portrait of the founder of the Mauritius Turf Club in 1812.
The Portrait of Colonel Edward Alured Draper
Horse Racing At Champs de Mars Mauritius
Horse Racing At Champs de Mars Mauritius
Just like their jockeys, racehorses come to Mauritius from many countries. Being imported mainly from England back in 1836, the vast majority of thoroughbreds today come from South Africa, but some are brought in from countries like Australia, France or even Italy. While in the beginning, all horses were imported by the Turf Club, stables nowadays have their own connections to stables abroad and usually import their future champions a few months before the start of season. There are currently around 350 race horses on the island. After retirement, they are placed in stables around the island, some of them in hotels, or given to private owners for a fee by the Race Horse Committee. The latter has been set up after the unusually cruel killing of former champion Mythical Man, who was filmed bleeding to death as his former owners watched on. The culprits are now in prison and the Race Horse Committee makes sure that all ex-race horses are placed in suitable facilities and well taken care of by their new owners.

Due to the tropical climate, the racing season in Mauritius is limited and only lasts from May to the beginning of December. It features four classic and six semi-classic races with the most popular being “The Maiden Cup,” which is run over 2400 metres and The Gold Cup, run over just 1600 metres. The first race of each season, the Duchess of York Cup, takes place on each opening day and is run by the newly imported horses only.

The rising popularity of horse racing draws large crowds to Champ de Mars, up to the 50,000 spectators have been counted in the past and to accommodate them in the future, an expansion project of the Champ de Mars racecourse is currently contemplated.

Featuring not only horses, but also outrageous fashion and a cheering, multicultural crowd, a day at Champs de Mars can be an adventure even for those who are not into horse betting at all.
Many celebrities and even members of royal families from all over the world have visited its premises and enjoyed the great atmosphere; as at Champs de Mars, the audience very enthusiastically and actively participates in the events on the race track. Champions are cheered loudly, popular horses and jockeys coveted and betting is done with a vengeance!
For the local population, horse racing has developed to become undoubtedly the most popular sport on the island; with many watching and few participating – hence requiring a minimum of physical activity and a maximum of thrill and action!
Even when not physically present at Champs de Mars, people can get into the spirit of horse betting by listening to the radio. Read the following narration of an island dweller that had to deal with the issue in an unusual way:

Public Bench At Champ De Mars Mauritius
Public Bench At Champ De Mars Mauritius
Mauritius Horse Racing
Mauritius Horse Racing

One Saturday afternoon, our calm, quiet and very polite neighbour turned berserk! Exchanging shocked glances, we tried to hear exactly what the exclamations coming through his living room window could mean. The shouting started out as a murmur, steadily intensifying; then turning into rhythmic yelling and finally he roared like a lion.
What had gotten into the poor chap? Furtive glances at the window revealed that his wife thankfully was still alive; actually she appeared quite well; feeding him peanuts and gadjaks, small local snacks, as he was sitting limply on the sofa.
After half an hour, the shouting started again, reached full crescendo and abated just like before. However this time our neighbour came onto his veranda, cell phone pressed against his ear and  informed the person on the other end of the line as well as the entire neighbourhood that someone called Chum-Chum or so had hit it big, was a great wonderful beast and  won the cup for Pegasus.
Secretly thinking that he seemed to be high in his cups already, we carefully approached the garden where he was tap-dancing; trying to see whether we should take him into the closed ward at Brown-Sequard mental hospital immediately or if there was still hope.
He was all smiles and waved a ticket at us as his wife poured champagne from an exclusively labelled bottle; telling us they had just won enough money to go on the long-anticipated cruise. Then it dawned on us: Saturday, cheering crowds, big money at the stake: The famous horse races!
After the third glass of champagne we became sort of chummy and found out that the horses name was actually John-John racing not for winged Pegasus, but for a stable called Pegus. We also found out, that this heavenly creature; one of the fastest equines on the island, was actually running and not flying on the oldest horse track in the southern hemisphere.
And guess what – next Saturday for sure, we're going to the races!