On-Site Tobago: The Churchill Downs of Goat Racing
It would be quite easy upon visiting Tobago to surmise that little here is taken very seriously. The entire place seems geared around having a good time, which was all well and good for me when last I visited in March.
That summation, however, would be fasle, and the photo above is proof.
You’re looking at the new state-of-the-art racing facility located in the small town of Buccoo, on Tobago’s Leeward Coast. That racing would be taken seriously to the tune of $100 million (the facility’s cost of construction) somewhere in the Caribbean is not altogether unusual. Horse racing, sailing regattas, triathlons and other tests of speed and endurance are contested throughout the region each year. However, it’s the type of racing that goes down here that makes Buccoo a prime destination for the type of uncommon travel experiences we love.
Now other types of races are hosted here as well, though I doubt they would’ve gone to all this trouble if the crab races that are also part of the festival were the main draw.
I got to check out the new facility just a few days ahead of this year’s races. The main covered grandstand in the photo is flanked by two other stands to the north – one covered, one not – with ample seating for hundreds of spectators. The track, a 100-yard grass field, stretches from the main grandstand, running the length of the two smaller stands, so everyone has an exceptional view.
In a word, it’s impressive. And no wonder; goat racing is pretty important around here.
Tobago bills itself as the “Goat Racing Capital of the World,” and really, who’s to argue? The tradition dates as far back as 1925 when Tobagonians decided they needed a working class alternative to horse racing. Quite obviously, the sport caught on and has grown in prominence over the years. Today, as evidenced in part by the new facility, goat racing in Tobago rivals horse racing in its sophistication, pageantry, style and fierce competitiveness. Or, as our friends at MEP Caribbean Publishers puts it:
- Goats have their own stables, owners, trainers, and jockeys – but these jockeys run barefoot behind the goats while clutching their leashes, and use twigs to spur the animals to the finish line rather than whips. Goats also bear colourful names like Rum Punch, and serious betting takes place before the race. Winners can also raise a championship trophy, topped with a golden goat, and return home with a cash prize and a bottle of rum.
Goat racing may have hit the big time in Tobago with the construction of the new facility, but you can still find races contested in more modest surroundings in line with the roots of the sport. Just check out this video to see what I mean.
If you want to experience the full majesty of the Buccoo Goat Race Festival, you’ll have to wait ’til next year. The festival coincides with Easter celebrations on Tobago, with the primary races held on the Tuesday after Easter Sunday.
Oh, and as with virtually all events in Tobago, the races are followed by a big party and street festival. Yeah, goat racing in Tobago is serious – serious fun!