Having been last year to a day at the Tasi Tolu horse races, I was all hyped up for a big one. Suitably kitted up with the necessary refreshments for a warm afternoon, I was ready and waiting at the track at the advertised 3pm commencement.
I think the first race got away close to 4:30pm. By then, the deodorant had long given up, the super-absorbent gusset had failed and I felt a shade ragged. There were your typical Dili street vendors selling water, Tiger beer and soft drinks etc. No toilets, no betting ring and no corporate marquees except for the official thing on the inside of the finish line. I noted horses owned by the President, PM and President of the Parliament, although of the three, only Jose Ramos Horta attended.
Perhaps the UN police attendance was a bit of overkill. They provided a fairly heavy-handed presence and as it turned out in the end, they provided the metal barricades to keep the masses from the track. There were no problems but I heard one local was taken away for presumably going onto the track against instructions. But you’ll love this – the metal barricades were borrowed from the airport.
I estimated about 50 expats and maybe one or two thousand Timorese. There were about 5 or 6 races ranging from the small Shetland pony sized Timorese horses to the mammoths imported from Australia. Most jockeys rode bare-back with no helmet or footwear. Only some bothered with a whip – probably because they were holding onto their steeds like grim death. The last race finished at 6:50pm as dusk was settling, and this was the feature race of the day (I think). But to be honest, I didn’t have a clue what was going on as there was no published info anywhere about what was happening – even 5 minutes into the future.
Last year, the racing association spent good money on wooden railings, only to find that within a week, the lot had been snaffled for firewood. I was intrigued to see this year’s solution. This time, they graded the track and pushed dirt up into a very neat 300mm high barrier on the “inside rail”. Very effective. However rather than being nicked, a few heavy rains will return this to the way nature intended.
To be honest, it was a bloody hot day but I guess us foreigners do become accustomed to it after a while – as long as being soaked with perspiration does not cause offence to others. As for the heat, it means no matter how much you drink, you don’t seem to need a toilet – which was nowhere to be seen anyway.
Best hat of the day goes to Kate from East Timor Journal – a fetching number nabbed from a recently departed (to another country, I mean) acquaintance. By the end of the day, Kate had passed it onto RO who wore it no less as enthusiastically. But the dress Kate, where did you get THAT from ?