The city of Bridgetown came alive for the return of the Barbados Sandy Lane Gold Cup. After a two year-hiatus, thousands of people flocked to the historic Garrison Savannah to catch a glimpse of one of the most prestigious horse-racing events in the Eastern Caribbean.
Vendors lined the streets around the savannah, families were camped out with their picnic baskets, fans were packed in the stands to get the best views and of course, some were out in their finest attire.
The atmosphere was electric as this is the most anticipated sporting event after all.
The Most Prestigious Sporting Event
For 40 years, the Gold Cup has been held by the Barbados Turf Club and sponsored by the luxurious Sandy Lane Hotel for 25 years. Each year, the event attracts the most talented jockeys from the USA, Canada, Europe, China, the Caribbean and Barbados as it is a Grade 1 thoroughbred horse race.
This year was no different as over 105 horses competed in 10 races with race number 9, The XL Sandy Lane Gold Cup, being the most anticipated race of the day.
The event was attended by The President of Barbados, The Most Hon. Dame Sandra Mason, The Prime Minister of Barbados, Hon. Mia Amor Mottley, The Minister of Tourism and International Trade, Hon. Ian Gooding-Edghill and other distinguished members of society. Many were adorned in their sharpest suits and beautiful dresses accented with their fascinators to bear good luck.
The race action was also broadcasted live on Sportsmax, the Caribbean’s most-watched sports network, for the first time ever. Commentators, George Davis, Patrick “Salt” Bellamy and Alex Jordan made the at-home viewers feel like they were watching the races live at the Garrison. International viewers from the USA, Canada and UK also got to view the action on Sportsmax’s sister network, CEEN TV.
A Cultural Fiesta
Though the races are the main attraction, the Gold Cup isn’t just about watching your favourite horse win, it’s an all-encompassing experience leading up to the big race. One can even describe it as a cultural fiesta.
As former jockey, Robert Hewitt, said “It’s a good outing to see some culture, eat local food and even win some money”.
Throughout the day, there were a number of vendors selling local delicacies like fishcakes, chicken necks and snow cones. For the kids, there was a myriad of jumping tents and rides to enjoy between the races.
This year, there was even a new viewing experience called the Gold Cup Village. Sponsored by the Barbados Tourism Marketing Inc, spectators got a taste of the upcoming Barbados Food and Rum Festival, which is slated for October 19th -22nd.
While catching rail side action of the races, spectators indulged in some of the finest Bajan cuisine and cocktails made by chefs Annmarie Leach, Javon Cummins and Creig Greenidge and mixologists Alex Chandler, Shane McClean, Natasha Jules.
First-timers Tina and Annette, from England, described their experience in the village as “lovely” and thought the inclusive pricing of food and drinks were a great idea. They could not stop raving about the food, especially the gourmet vegan meatballs that were served by Chef Ann-Marie Leach.
Experiencing the Action
However, the stands were the place to capture the true essence of the entire experience. Local entertainer and cultural treasure, Mac Fingall kept the crowd entertained as anticipation grew for the big race. He made the crowd bellow the song Sweet Caroline, quizzed a few tourists on facts about Barbados and even made the whole crowd congratulate 80-year-old Alan Higson, who was here on the island for his 25th time.
To get the crowd pumped for the big race, there was a cultural parade featuring the Barbados Police Service band, shaggy bears, drummers, steel bands stilt walkers and dancers from the Pinelands Creative Workshop and Dancing Africa to name a few.
Then, to set the mood for the race the crowd was serenaded by local artists like Philip 7 and Nikita who performed renditions of popular pop and soca songs.
The Big Race
As the curtain closed on the performances, the premier race took centre stage; The XL Sandy Lane Gold Cup. Nine horses and jockeys competed for a whopping $US 107,00 and the chance to attain the coveted Gold Cup trophy.
As the race commenced, the crowd roared as everyone screamed for their favourite horse to win. You could hear some bellowing “So Sauve”, and others screaming “Tallahatchiebridge”, but most were itching to see “It’s A Gamble” bring it home. And they got their wish as “It’s A Gamble” ridden by champion jockey Barbadian Jalon Samuel galloped across the finish line first, achieving Jalon Samuel’s sixth Sandy Lane Gold Cup. One could see the joy on Jalon’s face after being victorious and adding another title to his record number of wins.
In second place was “Tallahatchiebridge” ridden by horse racing icon Patrick Husbands and “So, Suave” piloted by Antonio Bishop was third.
Overall, the 2023 Sandy Lane Gold Cup was a resounding success, with thrilling races, a festive atmosphere, and a sense of excitement that could be felt throughout the island. The event once again demonstrated the enduring appeal of horse racing, and the vital role it plays in bringing people together from all corners of the globe.
Written by: Rhe-Ann Prescod