It cropped up too late on my radar screen to pre-notify (see below for future meetings schedule), but this afternoon the Dili Racing Club held a race meeting at Tasi Tolu. Tasi Tolu is the place where many houses were destroyed back in May, is the location of a major F-FDTL army base and has generally not been an ideal location from a security point of view.
But it does have a racecourse and the last meeting was scheduled for May but had to be postponed. The course itself is naturally occurring compacted fine sand and is pretty hard. It is 1400 metres in length and has a quite decent railing on the inner and outer parts of the track. There is no finish post or grandstand but for the day, temporary “stands” were erected for/by sponsors with perhaps seating for 50. The track was graded and the rails painted just prior to this event.
There were no food or drink vendors apart from one or two push carts at the eastern end but I saw no-one use them. There were about 500 Timorese in attendance and about 30 expats. I suspect most expats knew nothing of this event but I accidentally came across it in a Prime Minister’s press release on Friday. There was no organised betting although I was told it was happening on the side.
There were 5 races. The races were divided pretty much by horse size, with the very small local horses running in the first 3 races, followed by 2 races with imported horses from Australia. The largest field size was 5 which is probably not far off the manageable limit given no starting stalls. The first 3 races were basically bare-back riding and I have got to say, breath-taking given the obvious danger of riding flat-out and bare-back on horses who were extremely feisty prior to the start. Stirrups and saddles were more the norm in the last 2 races with older (and heavier) jockeys doing better on the larger horses.
Most of the jockeys looked to be around 10 years old with only a couple who may have been nudging 20. Seeing a tiny kid of maybe 40kgs riding bare-back with no footwear, no helmet and no obvious safety gear is truly breath-taking.
A young girl of miniscule stature rode in race 3 and looked completely at sea when the horse was stationary as it lashed out and generally caused trouble, but once the race was underway, she looked every inch an accomplished jockey. She came a good 2nd in a 5 horse field.
The Prime Minister’s horse won a 2 horse race #4 and it was clearly a class above it’s rival, even though the win was close (and perhaps staged slightly). Winner’s prizemoney was US$1,000 – not to be sniffed at.
I can see this becoming a very popular event with the expats, particularly if they move towards providing a bit more on the refreshment side of things. Even without it, it was non-stop entertainment, even though getting a 10-year old sliver of a jockey on a fiery steed reminded me of Evel Knievel gearing up for a motorcycle jump over 20 buses. One jockey in the last race came off several hundred metres after the finish and was taken to hospital.
Meetings are of a couple of days length so the current meeting has not finished yet. Racing continues on Thursday (21/12) and Friday (22/12) with the Peace Cup run on Saturday (23/12).
The 2007 Program includes planned meetings for 20 May, 30 August and 28 November.