Sunday, June 04, 2006

A day at the races

The Independence Day celebrations culminate on Saturday with the annual Independence Cup races at Faleata race track. This year's race day had everything required for a great day out and a lot more. There was champagne, frocks, elegant and extraordinary hats. Oh, and some horse races too.

A lot of people turned out for the day's events. As one might expect there was a healthy contigent of well-helled Samoans and ex-pats in attendance but there were lots of Samoan families enjoying picnic lunches and children running around everywhere. A group of us had a great time, enjoying a picnic lunch, having a flutter on the horses and soaking up the fantastic atmosphere of the day.

A total of nine races were held with many of the horses racing multiple times. The track wasn't exactly in the best condition, though I believe it was far less dusty than for previous meets. Indeed, the facilities don't compare with any of the racing venues I've visited in Australia but quite frankly, that was part of the enjoyment. Where in Australia would you find children clinging to the fence directly adjacent to the track as the horses bolted past? There were very few places where public access was denied. I was able to take a stroll through the jockey's rest area, which included the spartan, yet no doubt fully functional, weigh-in facilities. As the horses were paraded before each race I was able to stand no more than a couple of metres from them and inspect them up close. Which horse is looking revved up? Which one's requiring a little too much salve for sores? Too much strapping on the legs? The important questions could be asked and answered.

The races themselves were ran over a number of distances, from short sprints of 1000m to the premiere race over 3200m. The funniest race would have to be the village pack horse race. An open invitation to villagers to bring their pack horses along for a day at the races, there was no list of entrants, no odds and consequently no betting.

Nonetheless, the sight of seven or eight men ride their horses bareback over 700m was very funny. At the end of the day, these men weren't leading their horses into trailers for the drive home. No, they just hopped back on their charges and made their way homes the long way.

Being right up against the fence for a race made the excitement quite palpable at times. Some people were so overjoyed at the success of their chosen horse (indeed, the totes were running hot throughout the day) that they leapt in the air in celebration.

Unfortunately however, the day wasn't all beer and skittles. The big race of the day, the 3200m Independence Cup, had a rather tragic end. At the conclusion of the race I noticed a man running down the track being followed by a car. At first I thought that perhaps a drunken spectactor had decided that he was himself a horse and felt like a bit of a run. Once two more cars, the track ambulance and several more stewards joined the chase I realised something far more serious was up. Sadly, immediately after the conclusion of the race one of the horses collapsed at the end of the home straight. After a significant period of time the horse was declared brown bread and carted off on the back of a flatbed. I was told by the race caller at the end of the day that Kate's Gift was the third horse the owner had lost at the track over recent years.

In spite of the unfortunate departure of Kate's Gift, the afternoon continued in high spirits. The races continued and the obligatory hat competition was held. The field was a little slim but there were some great hats. Friends Kim (right) and Nicole (left), pictured here, entered the competition with Kim taking out the "Most Elegant Hat" prize. The "Most Eccentric Hat" was a shoe-in. Who could possibly compete with the toy horse and Barbie doll entry here?

The afternoon wrapped up around about 6pm and we packed our gear up and headed off to Giordano's closer to town for some of the best pizza available in Samoa. After which a few of us came back to my house for a viewing of The Princess Bride and some Lindt chocolate. It was a great way to wrap up a great day.

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