Champ de Mars, Port Louis
(Photo : Neetish Gunnoo)
CHAMP DE MARS
Port Louis, Mauritius
We’ve always maintained if you haven’t raced at the Champ de Mars, there’s something missing in your life. The Mauritius Turf Club’s tight 1400m circuit in the heart of the capital, Port Louis, is as intimate a racing venue as you’ll find, and most weekends, its Mediterranean-style facilities are packed to the rafters. Founded in 1812, the Southern Hemisphere’s oldest turf club boasts five marquee meetings a year, none bigger than this weekend’s international jockey’s clash. Though it doesn’t take a classic or an international event to excite the locals, drawing them to the track week after week.
The city bowl atmosphere and the “up close and personal” nature of the contest brings a gladiatorial quality to days like this, something akin to the “rumble in the jungle” Ali vs Frazier, or the epic bout between Verus and Priscus at the opening of the Flavian amphitheatre. Close your eyes and think of a gathering of some of the world’s best jockeys; Frankie Dettori, Stephanie Pasquier, Olivier Peslier, Corey Brown, Imran Chisty, William Buick, Glen Hatt, Robbie Burke, Karl Neisius, Rye Joorawon, Karis Teetan and Jeannot Bardottier, and you have all the ingredients for a no-holds-barred spectacular.
Mauritius is South Africa’s biggest horse export market, and with the growing prosperity of the local economy, Mauritians are not shy to put their money down. This Indian Ocean island off the East coast of Africa has been largely immune from the ravages of a tattered financial world, astute government strategies having targeted specific areas in the manufacturing and financial services which have elevated many of its businesses beyond the reach of the turmoil that has embraced us.
The result is, Mauritians are intrepid investors when it comes to decent horse, if that’s what it takes for one rich man to beat another on big days like these. South Africa’s handicapping system is apt to penalise horses to a point which makes them uncompetitive at home, and Mauritians are only too happy to place their hands on these gems, and give them a second lease on life. On Saturday, there’ll be any number of South African Group One performers taking to the course, stalwarts with a new “kick”, ready to take on the best again on a more level playing field. It’s a case of the Mauritians exploiting the gaps in a flawed system. Good luck to them.