Carreras de Caballos de Sanlucar
The Sanlucar Horse Races or “Carreras de Caballos” take place in August on the beach at Sanlúcar de Barrameda near Jerez de la Frontera in Andalucia. Officially these famous horse races have been taking place since 1845 but in actual fact they were happening way before that. It was in 1845 that the Sociedad de Carreras de Caballos de Sanlúcar de Barrameda was established thus making the races the first ever regulated horse races in the whole of Spain. However, long before the races were officially recognised there is evidence that much more informal races took place along the sands between the owners of working horses which were used to transport fish from the port to local towns and markets.
Nowadays, August sees two separate three day events in Sanlúcar that each attract thousands of spectators to this charming little town which lies on the estuary of the River Guadalquivir overlooking the Doñana National Park. You can check this year’s races dates on the official Sanlucar Horse Races website.
Even without the horses Sanlúcar is a charming place to visit. Historically, it served as the setting off point for the expeditions of Columbus in 1498 and Magellan in 1519 and is well known as part of the famous “Sherry Triangle” along with Jerez de la Frontera and El Puerto de Santa Maria. Visitors should head down to the riverside at Bajo de Guía where there are some superb restaurants offering local seafood delicacies which you can enjoy with a glass of manzanilla as the sun goes down over Doñana.
Such a peaceful scene hardly exists in Sanlúcar on race days as thousands swarm there to watch the races. There are still many small ‘casitas’ along the beaches providing the manzanilla but it is all a little like Epsom on Derby Day – a real social mix and full of people having enormous amounts of fun. The Sanlúcar Horse Races attract horses, riders and spectators from all over Europe. There are two race meetings about a fortnight apart with the dates depending on the tide timetables for August. Official and unofficial bookies also show up on the beach to offer punters the chance to place bets on the races which adds to quite a unique horse racing experience. The events form part of the town’s annual festival in honour of Nuestra Señora de la Caridad Coronada, Sanlúcar’s patron saint.
Races begin at 6.00am on the long, flat southern sands at low tide. Riders wear traditional colours and caps and the races are run over distances ranging between 1.2km and 2km. Prize money over the meeting amounts to several million euros, with winnings for each race ranging from a few hundred to several thousand. The biggest prize goes to the winner of the ‘Gran Premier Ciudad de Sanlúcar’ which takes place on the final day of racing over a 2km course.
It is estimated that somewhere in the region of 50,000 spectators assemble on the beaches to enjoy the races so if you’re thinking of attending this unique Spanish Fiesta you’ll need to book your accommodation well in advance. There are a few hotels in Sanlúcar de Barrameda itself but it might be simpler looking for somewhere in Jerez, Cádiz or El Puerto de Santa Maria – there are plenty buses which transport people to the races. You’ll also need to get there early to claim your place on the beach as everywhere gets packed. Maybe enjoy an early morning sherry or two while you’re waiting for the racing to start. And keep your eyes open for the King of Spain who is the President of the Racing Club and a frequent visitor.