Port Louis – Champ de Mars – The Crowd of the Maiden – 1966

The Maiden is the most popular and important event on the turfist’s list. In Mauritius, the Maiden happens mostly in the month of September and during the event, thousands and thousands of horse-racing enthusiasts gather at the Champ de Mars in Port Louis. Be it for the game or as a family tradition, the Maiden is certainly not to be missed. It is the the event of the year!

Port Louis - Champ de Mars - Crowd of the Maiden - 1966 (Courtesy: Sophie Cayeux)

Port Louis – Champ de Mars – Crowd of the Maiden – 1966 (Courtesy: Sophie Cayeux)

In the picture, we have a glimpse of how popular that event was back in 1966. It even looks like moving around is as challenging. Of course, back then there was no tv media nor popular radio to broadcast the event, and people had to personally attend the Champ de Mars to know what is going on. Today it can be said that the audience has diminished somewhat as many people prefer to follow the races either on tv or the radio at their own place or in betting shops. Since recent years, even online betting is possible and betting shops even exists in most town and villages.

Horse Racing Champ de Mars 1937

Horse Racing at the Champ de Mars – 1937

The Champ de Mars Racecourse is a thoroughbred horse race track in Port Louis, Mauritius. The Racecourse was inaugurated on 25 June 1812, by The Mauritius Turf Club (MTC) which was founded earlier in the same year by Sir Robert Townsend Farquhar, who was the first British Governor of Mauritius. The Mauritius Turf Club is the oldest horse-racing club in the Southern Hemisphere and the second oldest in the world. The race track follows a very selective right hand oval path and is relatively small in size, with a circumference of 1,298 meters (4,258.5 ft) and width between 12 and 14 meters (39 and 46 feet). The home-straight extends uphill and is 225 meters (738 ft) long. When Mauritius gained independence on 12 March 1968, the event including the flag hoisting ceremony was held here. Since then and for many years, the racecourse has seen the annual celebration of the accession to independence.

Today, the Champ de Mars attracts tens of thousands of people on each racing day during the racing season from late March to early December and has become the ultimate meeting place for racing fanatics from all over the island and even from abroad. The track has also played a fundamental role in propelling horse racing as the most popular sport and form of entertainment among the local population.

Before 1810, the area was a military training ground for French troops. The aim of the founders of the Mauritius Turf Club to set up horse racing at the Champ de Mars was to reconcile the French settlers with the English administration who had conquered the island in December 1810. They were convinced that the convivial atmosphere of horse racing would foster unity between the two communities and ensure social peace and harmony after years of fighting in the Indian Ocean. The new Governor, Sir Robert Farquhar and his wife of French origin, Maria Lautour, actively supported the organization of horse racing, the latter offering the first gold cup after the Club’s history to mark the occasion.

When he came to Mauritius, Colonel Edward Draper enthusiastically promoted horse racing at the Champ de Mars for some twenty years, racing his own thoroughbreds, often riding them in competition, to the point that he became known as the “Father” of the Mauritius Turf Club.

The main road leading to it is a landmark known to racing enthusiasts as “Rue Governement”, Champ de Mars racecourse is nestled at the foot of lovely hills. It is the oldest racecourse in the southern hemisphere and the second oldest in the world. Within its premises stands a statue of King Edward VII by the sculptor Prosper d’Épinay, and the Malartic Tomb, an obelisk to a French governor.

In the 19th century, the only permanent boxes at the Champ de Mars were those reserved for the Governor, the Mayor of Port Louis and MTC officials. Temporary boxes were built and hired on the spot on race days, and over the years, new boxes were erected. In 1906 the MTC purchased a wooden house at 26, Pope Hennessy Street, Port Louis and it served as MTC offices for about forty years. Permanent stands were built in 1909 and they were improved in 1927, 1939 and 1954. During the past decades, new facilities were added while retaining the colonial aspects of the racecourse.

The attendance record at the Champ de Mars was set in 1984 when more than 100,000 people turned up at the Maiden Cup, the most prestigious race in the Mauritian racing calendar. Nippy Regen, owned by the Gujadhur stable, won the race and was ridden by Adrian Walkinshaw.

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