An evening at the Races - Horseracing on the Beach at Sanlúcar
Sanlúcar de Barrameda sits on the mouth of the Guadalquivir river and first became famous for being the gateway to the Americas, when Christopher Columbus set sail from here on his third voyage and Ferdinand Magellan and Sebastian Elcano each set sail from here to circumnavigate the world.
There are wonderful monuments and palaces in the town, also known for its distilleries of manzanilla - which one is well advised not to compare with Sherry - wonderful fish and seafood restaurants on the Bajo de Guía and visits to the world renown Doñana Park. Sanlúcar is also noted for its unique horse races which take place every year in August on a 1,800m stretch of beach.
Twice in August, when there is a good low evening tide and the heat of the day is passing, the band of wet sand is wide enough for the races to take place. This year they will take place between the 12th and 14th and again between the 26th and 28th. Hotels and restaurantes get very booked up with many visitors hoping so secure their accommodation well before the summer, so if you are planning to stay overnight, you are advised to book well in advance.
The meeting is a thrilling spectacle where racehorses thunder along the sandy water's edge watched from behind a temporary fence by enthusiastic spectators who, like many of the horses and jockeys, have travelled from far and wide. Between races, adults and children alike cross the beach to collect clams from the shallow water before being ushered back behind the fence in readiness for the next race.
Each year spectator stands are set up and little home-made bookmaker stalls pop up on the sand, where children offer odds of 3 to 1. There are paddocks, a winners enclosure, hospitality tents and much more and after the last round of races on the final day of the season, a closing party is held, which is a very jolly affair and open to all.
The origin of these races in unclear. Some say that fish buyers would ride on their horses down to the beach and have races while they waited for the day's catch to be brought ashore. Others say that people used to race donkeys along the sand for fun and with time the event graduated from its humble beginnings to being a major horse racing event.
The Sanlúcar horse race society was established in 1845 and in spite of almost disappearing in the 1980s, when there seemed to be little interest, enthusiasm for the event has been rekindled under new management, turning it into a tradition which is now very much a part of the city's cultural fabric and the high point of the summer season in Sanlúcar de Barrameda.
Back to main list