When considering whether to backpack or not, most people will have concerns both internally identified by themselves and externally voiced by both their friends and relatives. Amongst these will be fears concerning personal safety, economic security and mental well-being. These will manifest themselves in issues dealing with mysterious diseases, shadowy natives and culture shock. However, having backpacked extensively myself, I have found that these big issues are rarely the ones that become worrisome once you have begun your journey. In reality, the things that most negatively impact backpackers, and cause them the most worry, are actually relatively trivial things. For example, myself and several others that I met, were most deeply affected by the withdrawal from our favourite sports; as both participants and live spectators. It may seem ridiculous, especially to those who are not sport lovers, but it can be quite a downer.
My sport was horse racing. A keen rider from an early age, and committed punter since I got my first job, I remember being in a small village in Vietnam and still – during a precious and fleeting online session – checking the Grand National tips. But the sad thing is that regardless of how much statistics you absorb, how many results you find or how many blurry live-streams you discover, nothing can replicate that feeling of watching a sport live. Therefore, to help my fellow horse race loving backpackers out there, here are three of the best international events the globe has to offer.
Hong Kong International Races
Hong Kong, due to its longstanding status as a British colony till 1997, has a long and distinguished history of horse racing since 1841. Whilst racetracks, such as the famous Happy Valley, host events all year-around, Hong Kong’s saves its most prestigious races for December’s Hong Kong International Races. This historic series, held at the Sha Tin Racecourse, consists of the Hong Kong Cup, Hong Kong Mile, Hong Kong Sprint and The Hong Kong Vase. What makes the Hong Kong International Races remarkable is whilst collectively they represent a powerhouse mega-event, individually each race itself is still regarded as incredibly prestigious and one of lucrative nature. The Hong Kong Cup is the richest turf race over 2000 meters in the world, and was once the finale of the defunct World Racing Championships. Meanwhile, the Hong Kong Mile’s prize money of HK$20 Million dollars made it, in 2002, the richest mile race in history. Moreover, The Hong Kong Vase regularly attracts a crowd of nearly 80,000 spectators, making it one of the most largely attended sporting events in Asia.
The Durban July
South Africa’s three principal cities each host one of the country’s most respected horse racing events each. Johannesburg is home to The Summer Cup, which had a first prize reward of R1.2 million. Cape Town has the J&B Met, which is competed at the internationally renowned Kenilworth Race Course. Finally, Durban hosts The Durban July, the pinnacle event of the calendar which has been running since 1897. The event is held on the first Saturday of July each year and takes place at the Greyville Racecourse. The Durban July is raced on turf and what makes it unique, amongst events like it, is that there is no age-restriction on the horses competing. Various distances have been used at the event, beginning with 1600 meters in 1879 and – after several alterations – having settled at 2200 meters in 1970.
This is the often forgotten finale to the Triple Crown of American events, which features the Kentucky Derby, The Belmont Stakes is an undervalued event that is a worthy metropolitan counterpart to the more earthy country affair that is the aforementioned Derby. This grade 1 stakes event, competed by thoroughbred horses, is held every June. Raced over 2.4km, the Belmont Stakes’s field is limited to three-year-old horses and the record for the event – at 2:24 – is held by legendary stead Secretariat. The event is also known for its famous playing of Frank Sinatra’s classic ‘New York, New York’ that plays at the beginning of each race.