Champ de Mars
“I have been all around the world, to many race tracks, but this one is truly unique. This is the most intimate and friendly atmosphere … “
In 1810, when the British came to settle, their priority was not only to keep the French colons happy but to enable hobbies that both the English and French could enjoy. The first English governor, Sir Robert Townsend Farquhar, thus founded the Mauritius Turf Club, the most ancient horse-racing club of the Southern hemisphere and the second oldest in the world. The racecourse was inaugurated on 25th June 1812.
Nowadays, between March and December, the atmosphere at Champ de Mars during the racing season is sheer folly! The Mauritians are totally fanatic about horse racing and a huge crowd gathers at the race course every Saturday. They can be passionate, well informed or very knowledgeable, sometimes daredevils but mainly “zougaders” (experienced gamblers). Early morning training sessions on week days attract quite a few racegoers, the ultimate purpose is to watch the physical condition of the horse and collect/glean some inside tips for the coming Saturday. As soon as the official program comes out, in the fashionable cocktail parties as well as on street corners or in front of the Taba J, the rumor or comment mill is grinding at full speed. Each and everyone has a very good and highly confidential tip… first hand from a colleague at the office who has a sister who is very friendly with the stableman’s cousin!
This is the moment everyone has been waiting for… the horses enter the track on the of the “private lodges” side an immediate rush towards the balconies. Today is Princess Margaret Cup, in memory of her visit and a race in her honor during colonial days… The women are so chic, they wear beautiful dresses and hats as they do on grand classics days : the ‘Duchess of York cup’, the ‘Barbé Cup’ and the ‘Maiden cup’, the season’s highlight.
Opposite on so called “La Plaine” which is the middle part, inside the race track, the crowd rushes to the gates… who gets there first has a better chance to see the finish.
Diling Diling Diling… the start is signaled by a bell! Here we go, the whole racecourse holds its breath… palpable until the last bend before the straight. Suddenly all together, the crowd breathes an incredible feeling of hope fills the racecourse, every single gambler knows his horse will win! We hear horses’ names being shouted with high and low pitched voices, people hop on the spot, it looks as if they were colorful bouncing balls. Every single one tries to see the finish, the atmosphere is electric… winners are delirious, losers are already busy evaluating their chances for the next race…
Georges Pernet, a horse racing American commentator, after a racing day at Champ de Mars said: “I have been all around the world, to many race tracks, but this one is truly unique. This is the most intimate and friendly atmosphere I have ever encountered”.