Before you reach for your top hat or fascinator, this is not Ascot, nor is it actually horse racing as you know it. For in Mallorca, it is trotting races that is the king of sports. The specially bred horses (with a height of 1.5 - 1.7 metres) pull a small and lightweight cart which carries a ‘jockey' around a race track going at speeds you would not think possible. This sport has been popular in Majorca for 200 years and tracks in Palma and Manacor host races once a week.
We went along one sunny afternoon to Palma's Hippodrome Son Pardo, as the track is known. We parked up along with the other abandoned vehicles in the spacious grounds and looked for the entrance to the arena. Expecting to pay an entry fee, we were very pleasantly surprised to find out it was free of charge and you can just wander in through the large open gate. The racing had just started and a decent crowd were placing bets or enjoying a meal in the restaurant. The atmosphere was more like what you find at greyhound racing rather than British horse racing, except that the sun was out and it was toasty warm - two things I have never experienced at a greyhound meeting.
A race in progress was just reaching it's climax when we reached the track side - with two horses crossing the line in a dead heat. The punters were suitably noisy as the winner was announced and we were inspired to place a bet ourselves. Sadly, no tic-tac-toe-ing was evident by the race track and we had to head indoors to the main hall to find the betting stations. Minimum bet is €1, making this a very affordable pastime if gambling takes your fancy. And it seems it does take many Mallorcans fancy, but sadly not many visitors. Without the local language at our fingertips, we had to rely on a good deal of finger pointing and poorly pronounced horse names to place our bets. But with a bit of humour, we managed it, although the finer points of the betting odds and potential winnings did escape us. As it turned out, we had no need to investigate further as our horses sauntered in near the back of the field. We consoled ourselves with a beer from the bar - at €1.50 per bottle, it's worth coming to the races just to have a beer in the sun!
At the start of the race, the horses line up behind a car which is fitted with what can only be described as giant wings - one to either side - and the jockeys choose an inside or outside position behind the car. The race starts as the car gradually builds up speed and the wings fold up, leaving the horses to race around the one kilometre track.
Each race can have around 16 horses in the field which can make racing around the corners an extremely dicey business as the carts race wheel to wheel. The skilled jockeys avoid collisions for the most part thankfully, and it's incredibly exciting to watch. The horses must remain in a trot, and not fall into a canter or gallop, but it is no ordinary trot that they utilise. Reaching speeds of up to 25 mph, this sport is fast and furious!
With race tracks in Manacor and Palma, you are never going to be too far away from race meeting no matter where you are staying in Majorca. Trotting races are held on Saturdays in Manacor, and on Sundays in Palma throughout the year - times vary according to the season. Take a look at the website for programmes, times and extra meetings.