Friday, June 08, 2012

Off to the Races!

What is all this excitement at the racecourse that can make grown men act like kids with a brand new toy? Well, just the other day I went to see for myself. It was the first time I went to the race tracks since the Royal Sabah Turf Club (RSTC) moved to Tambalang in Tuaran—although I’ve been to the stables many times. I didn’t know what to expect, except ponies and horses and their jockeys, of course.

But first a little history about pony racing in Sabah 

Initiated by the European community, the first pony races in Sabah were held in Sandakan in 1892. The pony race craze and excitement spread to the other towns and tracks were made in Jesselton, Kudat, Kota Belud and Labuan. Incidentally, when the North Borneo Chartered Company (NBCC) was looking for an alternative site to rebuild the town after the 1897 fire at Pulau Gaya, the Company noted that the wide open ground at Tanjung Aru would be perfect for a racecourse.

The first tracks were straight and only four furlongs (half a mile) in length. These tracks were later formed into rings which exceeded eight furlongs. The earliest ‘grandstands’ were viewing shacks of wood and attap. Even posts were good as viewing stands! Now there’s a modern grandstand at the Tambalang race course in Tuaran and it can accommodate thousands of spectators.

Whereas today the riders/jockeys are local men, during the NBCC era, only Europeans were permitted to ride in Jesselton and Sandakan. In the smaller towns, because there were not many European riders, the natives were allowed to compete with the white men. 

The ponies were of Mongolian breed and were brought in from Southern Philippines. Apparently, the Bajau people of Kota Belud have been rearing ponies for generations, hence earning the name ‘Cowboys of the East’. During the NBCC days the ponies were actually used as draught animals for higher ranking officers who qualified for ‘pony allowances’.

These days besides ponies, there are also horses and cross-breeds reared as ‘racehorses’. I’ve been told that race ponies can’t be ‘retired’ as ‘walking’ ponies because they’ve been trained to only run and not to slow canter. Well, at least that was what Mr. Hubby-knows-it-all told me when I suggested we adopt some of the old, unwanted ponies and rent them to leisure riders.

What I saw and learned at the races…

I thought only men go to the races but many women and children go too.

The ponies and horses are walked twice around this oval pitch in front of the grandstand… like beauty contestants, I thought.

The tracks are smoothened… and then sprayed with water before each race.

There were special ‘Cup’ races the day I went because Sabah was celebrating Tadau Kaamatan. Winning ponies receive their prizes immediately after each race.

Many people place bets on their favourite ponies. Forecasts appear in the local papers to ‘help’ them predict and pick the winners.

A jockey has to watch his diet and I’m told he normally weighs around 55kg only! The RSTC pays the jockey a riding fee for each of the race he runs. The RSTC also keeps track of the jockeys’ performances and awards are given to the ‘Champion Jockey’ every year.

Mr. Hubby’s pony didn’t win that day. Sakit kaki konon.

(Angel Bear, if you're reading this... we'll go to the stables one of these days when you're not busy.)

1 comment:

  1. aih...June is a busy month for me...maybe from Julai onwards. *kesian kan*