by Shawn D Edghill
Horse racing at the Garrison has a rich history and plays a major part in increasing tourism in Barbados.
A brief history of the Garrison Savannah
The Garrison Savannah has held many meanings for different people because of its many functions. From its military purposes, to its hosting of a variety of sporting activities which include football, rugby and by far the most popular horse racing. Even in its earlier years locals would enjoy themselves while participating in goat and crab racing matches. The Barbados Garrison was established in 1780 as the military headquarters for the imperial forces which were stationed in Barbados between 1905 and 1906. During that time the officers of the British Regiment used to match their horses in races with the wealthy business men and plantation owners.
Throughout the years the Garrison area has expanded and now includes the Savannah as well as some buildings in Bay Street and Hastings. Some of the historical structures surrounding the garrison are; the Guard House and its famous clock tower, the former Medical Pavilion, which was converted to apartments in 1928, the Military Hospital, the Drill Hall, St Ann’s Fort and the Barbados Museum which was constructed in 1817.
Another one of the activities held in the early days was cricket, it was the venue for the first inter-colonial cricket match between British Guiana and Barbados in 1860. In 1906, the Main Guard was bought locally and converted into the exclusive Savannah Club which is now owned by the Barbados Government and is the home for organizations such as the Barbados Legion and Barbados Poppy League. Today, the excitement produced by the thousands of spectators is contagious and the fans are always looking forward for new matches. The Garrison Savannah remains the oldest functioning horse race track in the Americas.
The Barbados Turf Club
The Barbados Turf Club is located at the Garrison Savannah, near the capital and was established in 1905. However the first horse racing matches were held in Wildey near the clinic and the US Embassy. This prestigious club is responsible for promoting, regulating and organizing races, which are conducted throughout the calendar year. A total of 185 races are held at the Savannah, with an approximate sum of 25 race meetings during these periods; (spring season) January- April, May to September (Summer Season) and from November to December (Winter Season) respectively. Races can be seen every other weekend or sometimes back to back depending on the schedule of events per month.
Currently, the trepidation produced by the many visitors to the Barbadian shores is quite captivating. As a national sporting activity, horse racing here is used as one of the reasons for entertainment and festivals commonly enjoyed by many. For example: facilities are available for those individuals who find great enthusiasm in the spectacle from the stands as well as those who are more interested in an informal atmosphere. These individuals can enjoy having picnics as they can kick back under the tall shady trees surrounding the track.
The whole family can enjoy Barbadian dishes like pudding and souse, rice and stew, fried fish and fish cakes. Quenching the thirst is not a problem with drinks ranging from refreshing coconut water and icy cold beer to the finest Barbadian rum. Emphatically, Barbadians are known for their welcoming smiles and friendly personalities.They find great delight in extending warm welcome to the many visitors on the island.
Sandy Lane Barbados Gold Cup and Tourism
The Barbados Gold Cup is held annually on March first and has become the most celebrated horse race in the Caribbean. It was originally sponsored by Cockspur Rum since its creation in 1982. The main goal of the event was to put Barbados on the horse racing map and to encourage jockeys from Jamaica, Trinidad and other Caribbean territories to take part. In 1997 Sandy Lane Hotel took over sponsorship of the event which has led to a greater financial support as well as an increased number of entries to the competition which includes the United States and Canada. The race is contested over a turf course distance of 1,800 meters, and is open to horse’s age three and over. Winners of the Gold Cup, (which is flown in each year via British Airways) can receive up to three million dollars in prize money along with international recognition.
Patrick Husbands, Barbados’s most famous jockey has won a hand full of local tournaments and has moved on to capture the Canadian Sovereign award up to eight times. Another popular jockey Sir David Seale (Aristodemus) has won the Gold Cup for his seventh time at the races this year and is scheduled to take part in more races overseas. Over the past few years the races have been viewed on a large scale via television broadcasting and through a variety of racing circles worldwide. In addition to this, the races have been streamed live through the internet for the past three years. Despite great international involvement the event has been able to remain true to its origin, with a host of local horses winning the cup throughout the years.
The Sandy Lane Gold Cup also added to the island’s economy, especially in the area of sports tourism and the government is pushing to develop that segment through the inclusion of events like the World Fireball Championships and the recent Panerai Transat Classique, both international boat races that placed Barbados on the map. With high levels of foreign exchange sporting events like this help to stimulate the Barbadian economy by creating an opportunity for businesses to sell their products while encouraging locals to support their own also. In the case of the actual event, jockeys, trainers, and all individuals work hard to pull off the action are keeping that field thriving as earnings are pulled back into the country.
The Minister of tourism, the Honorable Richard Sealy states that “Since its inception, both the BTC and Barbados Tourism Authority can attest to the increased visitor arrivals not only from the region but as far as the United states and Canada”. He also states that it attracts even greater audiences than cricked and motor racing. In an interview at the Turf Club, Mr. Mohammed says that he has already received bookings scheduled for 2014. This demonstrates that the Gold Cup and horse racing in general as one that will continue to generate interest and revenue for the Barbadian economy. Another aspect of the event that has been an attraction for tourists is the Gold Cup Parade which takes place one week before the races. The parade features: the Barbados Police Mounted Division, the Police Band and the Trident Elite dance group and cheerleaders.
Analysis on Information
In doing the research for this paper, it was brought to my attention the level of hard work and preparation that goes into making horse racing an international sporting event. After experiencing the Gold Cup for the first time this year I can say that it is something that I enjoyed and would like to see again in the future. I believe that that it should be a part of the marketing strategy of tourism in the country. However it seems that racing has come a long way and has grown tremendously so I can see greater opportunities in the future for Barbados and this sport.
Carrington, Sean, Forde, Addinton, Fraser, Henry, John Gilmore: 1990 A-Z of Barbados Heritage. Heinemann Publications
Taitt, Andy. 2010 Historic Bridgetown and its Garrison Nomination as a World Heritage Site Nomination Document. Ministry of Community and Development.
King, Lisa. 2011 “Gold Cup Parade in Town.” Nation News, 21 – 22.
Yarde, Lindon. 2011 “Gold Cup Fever.” Nation News, 23.