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Garrison Savannah Racecourse

Home > > Escape the City | Picnic Spots | Sport
by Margaret Waters (subscribe)
A former teacher and charity worker from the North East of England, I love people and places and like to try out new experiences wherever possible. Capturing that 'perfect pic' is all part of the pleasure. Access issues are a particular interest.
Published February 23rd 2014
Garrison Savannah is a Good Bet for a Great Day Out
Garrison Savannah racecourse
Garrison Savannah Racecourse

We'd never been to a race meeting before, either separately or together so when we actually did get round to it, it was all the more exciting that it was in Barbados.

It was the end of April and we were celebrating a big anniversary. A few days earlier we'd discovered the Garrison Savannah Racecourse next to the Hastings Historic Garrison - which is on the south coast of the island about 10 minutes drive from Bridgetown and a twenty minute walk from our hotel on Coconut Beach.

We had to be careful climbing over some of the pavements (sidewalks) near our hotel, which were pretty rough and ready or non-existent in some places along the main road that rings the island. If, like me, you have mobility difficulties it's quite difficult to get around and I would say virtually impossible for wheelchair users, however the ground nearer the garrison is a little more flat and level.

The lovely colonial buildings at Hastings Historic Garrison are well worth a visit in their own right but we were intrigued by the racecourse as we couldn't tell whether it was completely deserted or open to the public, we needed to find out.

Racecourse with clock tower
Racecourse with Clock Tower and Historic Buildings in the Distance

According to some literature back at the hotel, the racecourse area is said to have been used for this purpose since around 1650, when British cavalry officers raced their horses for fun during their leisure time, but this still didn't answer our question.

We decided that a bit of local knowledge would be the best way forward and asked the staff at the hotel reception, who simply called the racecourse and found out for us.

To our delight, there was a race meeting every fortnight on Saturday afternoons and there was going to be one while we were there on holiday.

Always a lover of local activities, this was an idea way to spend a sunny afternoon.

Racecourse Looks just like and English Village
Racecourse looks just like an English Village

The Garrison area at Hastings is like stepping back in time and the quintessential village scene could easily be set in England.

When we arrived at the gates to the Grandstand we joined the queue and paid our entrance fee to the stalls. This worked out to be about £5 (GBP) per person, payable in Barbadian dollars – which are approximately 3 Barbados dollars to £1 sterling.

The ground was filling up quickly as we found a wooden bench on the grandstand and soaked up the race day atmosphere. Many local people were there enjoying their Saturday afternoon and some just brought picnics and sat on the grass around the perimeter fence – which cost absolutely nothing.

In the area just behind the Grandstand there were picnic tables and stalls selling hot food, drinks and snacks, as well as the delicious rum punch we'd come to know and love.

There were betting booths dotted around the grounds where you could pick up a newsletter with information on the different races being run that day which listied the horses and their jockeys in each event – and of course you could also place your bet.

There were eight races during the course of the afternoon with titles such as 'The Royal Mile Handicap', the 'Zarmella Handicap' and the 'Another Chick Handicap', all with details of ages of the horses taking part and other entry criteria.

The prize money was quite lucrative too, with the main event of the day – 'The 62nd Barbados Guineas' - a race open to West Indian bred 3 year olds – having a winner's purse of $30,000; a horse called Aston Martin was the favourite to win.

M stays in the background
Margaret's a Back Bencher
Colin picks his horses
Colin picks his horses

Not being race-goers we decided just to have little wagers between us and chose our horses from the news-sheet to see who got the most right between us. As the afternoon began, my hubby Colin and I selected our horses and decided which ones we were going to cheer home.

The excited babble of West Indian voices and the colourful crowds created a brilliant atmosphere as we waited for the races to begin.

This was a 'flat' racecourse and horses had been brought from all over 'the Americas' to compete. With animals and their trainers coming from as far away as Canada, the U.S.A. and other Caribbean islands, this was truly an international affair and colourful national flags bedecked the grounds to show the representative members present on the day.

Flags flying on Race day
Flags Flying on Race Day

The whole event was being filmed so that you could watch the race on the big screens situated around the race course and get a closer view of your favourite.

pre race canter
Just a Little Pre-race Canter
Colin enjoys the races
Laid back Colin enjoys the races

We soon learned that nobody stayed in their seats as horses from each race were paraded in the enclosure for punters to get a closer look and scores of people surged towards the railings to participate in the viewing and feel the vibe.

By this time we'd left our seats behind and were just mingling with the crowds, having taken our possessions with us. As virtually everyone else had the same idea it then became very easy to grab a spare seat if you wanted to rest for a while.

Getting ready for the race
Getting Ready for the Race
no 9
No. 9 shows his Colours

As the races got under way, we stayed near the course railings to get a good view as horses hurtled along the home straight towards the finishing post and the excited commentary over the public address system reached a crescendo. The excited cheering from the watching punters was electrifying as the enthusiastic crowd rallied their favourites home. Even though we didn't wager any money on any particular horse we felt totally involved as the little competition between us heated up. In the end, the best we could do was pick a horse that came second (hubby's choice) and my best was fourth.

Crowd cheer on the winners
cavalry charge

AND the winner is

first past the post

The afternoon went absolutely nowhere and the atmosphere lingered long after we left the racecourse area and began the walk back to Coconut Court Hotel amidst the effervescent crowd.

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Why? Great day out, local event, sport, mingling with local people, food and drink
When: See website for further information
Where: Garrison Savannah Racecourse, Hastings, Barbados
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