Marsa Horse Racing Track
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You’ll find several things on Malta that are left over from its time as a colony of the British Empire. The language for one - because mercifully everyone speaks English – and that a good thing because Maltese (with its silent ‘Q’s is a nightmare). There’s also football , which was brought here by the English military, as was horse racing at the Marsa Racing Track.
Actually, the horsey links on Malta stretch back much further than that to the Romans, who first brought horses to the island around 2,000 years ago. Once they’d departed though, the people went back to the traditional bulls and donkeys and made do with them until the 16th century, when the Knights of Malta first landed on and took charge of the island.
A horse culture was established and it was certainly strengthened when the British – a renowned horse-loving nation – took charge of Malta in 1800. And so the traditional horse-drawn carriages started to be used regularly by British servicemen followed by the formation of the racecourse in Marsa, which began operating in 1868.
It was the British naval officers who joined with the local gentry to bring the concept of horse racing to the island and together they built a designated track. According to news reports at the time, the first ever course was ‘1.75 miles long, 90ft wide and crossed six water courses’.
By the end of the 1920s, superbly trained Arab stallions were being shipped in from North Africa to compete at the Marsa track.
The Second World War brought the darkest period for horse racing on Malta when the fine beasts that raced had to be slaughtered. There was a gap of several years before racing recommenced soon after hostilities has ceased. The track reopened in December 1945 and has been open since.
It did suffer a fairly poor period however when the British left the island and took their toys (ie the horses) back home with them. As the jockeys who rode the were also English and so went with them, Marsa Racing Club was left with a tricky problem of having no horses and no jockeys but a track.
As ever, the resourceful Maltese came up with a solution and ditched the traditional man on a horse’s back technique for something called sulky races. These don’t involve people looking particularly glum but involve racing ponies while sitting on a lightweight two-wheeled cart – a bit like Roman chariot races.
The concept has taken off and the racetrack was reconstructed in 1981 with a grandstand for 2,000 spectators included. Bars and shops were also added and now, apart from the local races, Marsa is sometimes used as a venue for international events such as the European Championship for Professional Drivers. Some traditional horse and jockey races are also run at the course these days too.
A visit to the Marsa Horse Racing Track provides you with a typically Maltese experience. There’s always a great atmosphere and lots of raucous cheering as you urge on your chosen horse in the hope of landing that elusive big win. The course has its own website where details of the next meeting can be found.
Address: Race Course Street, Marsa
Phone: +356 2122 4800
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