There is no sporting spectacle quite like horse-racing. The excitement, the emotions and the intensity generated by the drama of the track have proved addictive to both enthusiasts and vacationers alike. Yet, one has to actually be present to witness the sheer electricity of the chase and the thunder of flying hooves as a new horse racing season bursts upon the picturesque Nuwara Elia circuit.
|Last year’s Governor’s Cup in progress and (inset) and (below) the fashions at the races. Pix by J. Weerasekera
This year’s Racing Season organised by the Sri Lanka Turf Club will feature some of the sub-continent’s finest gallopers including the very best Sri Lanka steeds and Indian thoroughbreds for three days of world-class action. The whole event has a carnival like air which brings this sublime part of the restful high sierra retreat to life and sets the scene for an unsurpassed carnival ambience. The 2011 season will see celebrated Indian jockeys such as Melvyn Maseyk and D. Gnaneshwar riding against some of the more popular local riders.
Horse racing is a fast-paced, exciting and often nail-biting sport to follow and spectators have been flocking to the Nuwara Eliya course since the racing began yesterday (April 9). It will continue on April 16 to be concluded with its grand finale on April 23.
While most think the competition is on the track, those in the know would say the fashionistas in the stands will always give the horses a run for their money. Nuwara Eliya is the social event of the Sri Lanka racing and holiday calendar. But the real spectacle of the Nuwara Eliya Racing Season is the fashion parade on ‘Ladies’ Day’. This year promises plenty of feather and frippery-clad race-goers who will certainly be apparitions of an earlier genteel era which has become all the rage where many dress the part of the elegant Victorian lady, gentleman or child.
The ladies will look visions of sophistication in their chic graceful gowns trimmed with frills and ribbons although the more modishly innovative will be intrepid enough to cut a few sartorial corners as well as frocked up hemlines to add a bit of flounce and flutter to the proceedings.
Hats are de riguer and they range from the bizarre to the beautiful. But usually the more extravagant and outrageous headgear is all the better to turn heads. See for yourself as Nuwara Eliya invokes images of old Hollywood and a Royal Ascot day at the races. The mid-nineteenth century lady was a vision of elegance and grace in beautiful gowns lavishly trimmed with frills, flounces, lace, braid, fringe, ruche and ribbons. The fashion conscious Victorian dame created this appearance with a mysterious combination of being dressed to the nines complete with ornate accessories such as pelerines, fans, gloves, hats and parasols. The finished look was one of decided refinement and allure that smacked of old-world charm.
Nuwara Eliya’s importance in racing is without question because of the many superstars both equine and human who have been strutting their stuff throughout its history. And for the gentleman dandies, drinkers of champagne and brandies it’s a great opportunity to dress up in long-frocked coat-tails and perhaps top it off with a dashing cravat. This hybrid of a tie and scarf is a rare sight these days, one that will surely bring attention to the man who dares wear it. Tired of the conventional shirt-and-tie look? Then try the ‘Ascot’ or knotted scarf that can add a special flair to the trend-setting stylish male. Knotting it should be as easy as pie for anyone who knows the Four-in-Hand. And even if you don't know the Four-in-Hand this knot is pretty simple: Over, under, around, and through.
The quality of the horseracing at Nuwara Eliya is simply outstanding, not so much for the prize money – which isn’t worth writing home about - and gambling but for the passion and prestige that breeders and enthusiasts hold for the sport. There are the favourites and the not so fancied runners termed the dark horses. But who knows, taking an elusive long shot on a dark horse could pay rich dividends. And when the one you pick eventually does romp home a winner, there’s that sense of unbridled euphoria, a feeling that only racing buffs can appreciate. The stands this year will be packed for all races particularly for the highlight, the fiercely fought prestigious Class One event, The Governor’s Cup.
This year as well the Governor’s Cup competition promises to be an breathtaking encounter with several thoroughbreds in the lineup. Last year’s champion Double Eagle in fine fettle romping in as a winner three times on the trot since 2009 and equalling the record set by Sandy’s Queen in 1994 is out to make it four-in-a-row. The favourite however running under the colours of Manaro India and the Jayaratne Stud Farm is expected to face stiff competition from Red Key Point a speedy nine-year-old chestnut of the Jayaratne Stud Farm who was a previous Independence Cup winner.
A day at the races offers something for everyone including drama, exhilaration, style and glamour, celebrities and socializing topped off with some awesome horsepower. And of course the entire concourse can consider themselves the bluebloods of society where everyone is a monarch of all they survey. No small wonder then that it’s called the ‘Sport of Kings’.