Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Annual Easter Goat Races of Tobago - Day One

"And they're off"

The Kentucky Derby, Royal Ascot, The Melbourne Cup, The Boulia desert Sands Camel Race, all famous races.  The Tobago Goat Races rank right up there with these famous races.  Or at least it does in this part of the world.  And from what we witnessed, it should throughout the rest of the world as well.  If you have not experienced the Goat Races of Tobago, you are missing out.
Every Goat Race had a starting bugle - nice touch
As you may remember from a previous posting, we were very much looking forward to experiencing the Annual Easter Goat Races.  Very much.  Come on..... it's GOATS and humans racing down a track for sport.  What is not to love about that!  Let me tell you......the Goat Races did not disappoint!  As we spent the weeks leading up to the races here in Tobago, we took the opportunity to visit with locals, inevitably bringing up the goat races and asking for input.  Answers were of course varied.  A few had never been.  Crazy I know, but aren't we all guilty to some extent of not experiencing those cultural events that are in our own backyard?  Most locals had been and gave us words of encouragement and advice.  Some assured us that we would see them there in attendance at the races as well.  One thing we've struggled with here in Tobago is nailing down start times of events.  Yes, I know.....island time but we needed some idea of start time.  Eventually we gathered as much information as we could and then formulated our plan of attendance.  Get it?   Plan of attendance vs plan of attack?  Ha!
Stefan, Annika and Tom track side
Sy Tango were our partners in this grand adventure.  Stefan and Annika were just as excited as us to see this spectacle.  FYI - Easter is a long celebration here in Trinidad and Tobago.  It officially starts on Good Friday through Tuesday but we found many actually start celebrating on Thursday.  Many, many, many people come over from mainland Trinidad for the  l-o-n-g weekend or even turn it into a week long holiday.  Most arrive on one of the fast ferries that make multiple trips from Trinidad each day.  I say fast because it takes approximately 2 1/2 hours for the trip on the fast ferry vs our 13 hours.  *Locals have been blown away that we 1.) Live on a sailboat and 2.)Travel the world by sailboat...."Oh Looord, I would be so seasick.  I don't even like going out on my cousins fishing pirogue."  3.)That it takes us 13 hours to get from Trinidad to Tobago.  Anyway, a few Trinis come via their own boats.  An armada of sport fishing boats from Trinidad showed up here in Tobago on Thursday.  One actually went out fishing early each morning - go figure!  Suddenly the quiet anchorage of Store Bay that we previously had all to ourselves (along with Sy Tango) was crowded.  But that was ok.  Everyone behaved and we even had a chance to get to know one sport fisher guy and lime with him onboard his boat.  m/v Cheerio -Nice people that we hope to connect with again when in Trinidad in July.     
Track side to see the action up close
There were events each day, all day and all night....remember, Tobago is part of Trinidad so I do mean ALL night!  There was an Arts and Culture show that we stumbled on - aka - booths with stuff for sale, singing and a steel pan band.  A car show that we planned to attend but didn't because we could never get clear information on where and when.  Actually, we were trying to flag down a car to go to where we thought the car show was when a local tour guide we know stopped to say hello and ask what we were up to.  He subsequently told us the car show was not at the stadium where we were headed but in a totally different city in another part of the island.  Oops.  Oh well.  Instead we found a place with live music and then headed to "Sunday School" aka an official street party held every Sunday night but off- the- hook crazy  this Easter Sunday night.   There were fetes on the beaches and general liming everywhere we went.  The island was hopping.  Get it?  Hopping?  Easter bunny?  Ha!  
Ticket booth

Okay, this is getting too long.  But I wanted you to to get a feel for the entire holiday weekend.  So on to the actual Goat Races.
Goat Track where it all happens

Race Day One was held in Mt Pleasant.  We decided we wanted the FULL experience aka we didn't want to miss anything so we departed our boats around 11:30AM, even though we know nearly all things start on island time and the locals don't show up until much, much later.  We caught a P car (private car) ride for $40 TT total- normal price....good to know there wasn't price gouging with this big event.  He dropped us off 20 min. later.  
This was the 44th running of the Mt Pleasant Goat Races.  That is longer than the House Assembly of Tobago (Tobago Legislature if you will) has been in existence.  This is a well established event.  The grounds are a large grassy enclosed area.  Tickets were $40 TT (the ones we purchased) and $60TT.   There are permanent covered grandstands ($60) in one corner plus temporary stands ($40) with no shade cover across from them.  However, there were tents for shade immediately behind the uncovered stands where we sought refuge from the sun and heat several times in between races.  It was HOooooT out!  The grass goat track is situated between the covered stands and uncovered, with a proper starting gate at one end and finish line at the other end.  The color commentators were stationed just beyond the finish line.  And let me tell you that these guys were really good and added to the enjoyment of the day.  
Covered stands - always in place
Uncovered stands - chatting with owner Blundy

The paddock lies back to the left of the finish line.  Convenient as the goats automatically run straight for the paddock after each race  It consisted of three tents where the goats were tied up (loosely and comfortably) and the jockeys and owners/trainers were preparing... er....  We had a chance to visit the goat paddock and hang out a bit.  The previous week we met a owner/trainer.  Blundy has a two year old goat.  He gets up each morning at 5 am to train with the goat.  They walk, run and swim as part of the standard training.  These goats are specially breed for racing.  They cost anywhere from $2000 to $6000 TT.  They are extremely tall.  However, one local gave us the tip to look not only for a tall goat but also a long legged, fit runner as well when picking a winner.  Ah ha.  The goats are trained to run straight and fast.  The owners are also the trainers and some have many goats.  Sonny Murry, long time owner/ trainer had a goat in each class and a total of 10 competitive goats according to one video clip we saw about Goat Racing.  The jockeys are very fit, very fast island guys that have a tough training program as well.  Most racing goats are male.  I am not sure why.  Blundy had a few jokes to explain why but he admitted he didn't really know why.  The jockeys are male too but there was one female jockey race and these women were just as fit and fast as the guys.  
Paddock for goats, owners and jockeys

Resting, relaxing until the next race

Strategizing for the next race

A race goats life

The rest of the grounds were filled with tents/booths of food, drinks and goodies of all sort to eat.  As well as booths with an abundance of things for kids to get their parents to buy for them - aka - balloons, kites, sparkly wind catchers, bubbles, face painting, games, a bouncy house, was very much a family atmosphere.  
Xmas sweater - really?  Really!

However, the main focus was the racing.  I say racing because aside from Goat Racing, there was also foot races.  Both boys and girls.  It was a great way to get the kids involved and give us a look at the future Goat Jockeys.  One type of race in particular captured our attention.  It combined running and math.  I think they called it the Computation Race.  The racers were given 8"x 10" chalkboards.  At the other end of the race track there was a large blackboard with several numbers written on it.  The children had to run down to the big blackboard, add up the figures and then race back to the finish line.  It simply was not enough to be fast, they had to get the math problem right as well.  Truly ingenious!  One race no one had the right answer the first time so they all raced back down to the big chalkboard again for another try. We watched three different age groups do this type of race.  
Computation Race

Computation Race

But the Goat Races are what we really came for.  We paid $20 TT for a race day program.   Despite lacking a pen/pencil, we followed along, scrutinizing the goats and jockeys in each class as they passed in front of us on the way down to the starting gate.  We each picked our goat to win and waited as they got set in the starting gate, anticipation building.  Many people gather along the wood fence track side to get a good view and take pics.  Those of us in the stands stood, peering down the 100 meter track for the start.  Like all famous racing there was bucking and tussling in the starting gates and a few false starts, but for the most part, the gate keepers and jockeys did a good job.  The commentators kept us informed with the play by play.
Tall race goats
Starting gate
"And they're off..."  The gates opened and goats and jockeys tore off down the track towards the finish, 100 meters away.  The goats were always in the lead - these tall goats are fast.  The jockeys close behind at the end of a tether.  Now for some of the rules.  Jockeys must keep hold of the tether.  If they drop the ropes thus getting separated from their goat at any point during the race,  then they are disqualified.  We actually saw this more than once.  Hey, when the starting gates opens, it's mayhem as goats and jockeys charge down the track.  Jockeys are required to wear white shorts and run barefoot.  Yes, barefoot.  Think about that for a moment.  Have you ever been around barnyard or field animals?  They generally move the way they want, even trained ones.  And.....goats have hard hooves.  I know some of you readers have experienced getting stepped on by an animal whether it's a big dog, horse, cow or such, it freaking hurts.  Imagine getting stepped on by a goat hoof in your bare feet.  Ouch!  We witnessed it at least once that day.
Race getting underway
Go, go, go, go, go, gooooooooooooo
Women's Jockey Goat Race
And there were other injury dangers as well.  As I mentioned before, we saw more than one goat get away from the jockey.  Usually this was in a tangle up of goat and human legs that resulted in the jockey falling down and or wiping out completely.  One jockey pulled his hamstring and was writhing in pain.  The medical team rushed out to attend to him but after they dropped the gurney bed down rather abruptly and alarmingly, he decided to limp off with the help of others vs get on the gurney.  FYI - there were three ambulances on the grounds just in case.  However, as we heard through the commentators, they weren't always available at their station....."For the third time, would the emergency medical people PLEASE get your ambulance and head to the front gate.  There is a medical emergency and you are needed NOW."  
TALL goat
Steeple Chase?  No, just a different start without the gate
As I said the color commentators kept us informed and entertained....whether they meant to or not.  Four times that day the commentators had to announce lost parents.  Not lost the kids were found.  They announced on the PA system asking that the parents of whatever kid please come and claim your child.  Each time this was done in blunt language.  "Ms Jean Roberts, please come and get your child Dwight.  He is at the police booth.  Today is not the day for this type of behavior to happen.  You must come and get your child."  Wow!  However.....I can understand the child parent separation.  As I said, it was very much a family type day with tons of things for the kids to do.  Families roamed around and everyone knew everyone.  My guess is that missing parents didn't worry about their kids as they knew they were probably somewhere with their cousins running around.  But the public announcements (and public shaming feel it had) for "missing parents" was a new twist for us.  
Heading towards the start gate

Twelve Goat Races total were held day one.  There were sponsors for each Goat Race and price money which varied by class and race.  The highest being race 13 with $10,000 TT for first place, $2,700 TT for second and $2,500 TT for third.  Not too shabby.  
Photo finish
We stayed through nearly all the Goat Races except the Champ of Champs.  We were worn out from the sun, heat and excitement.  We found a P car back, arriving home to our boats around 19:00.  
Goat Racing bling bling

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