Located about 2,000km off the southeast coast of Africa, in the Indian Ocean, lies the remote island of paradise known as Mauritius.

The small island, roughly the size of Co Kilkenny, is widely known for its tourist appeal due to exotic weather, white sandy beaches and luscious vegetation. Mauritius is also internationally renowned for its textile and sugar exports.

Yet, much like Ireland, Mauritius has a rich history regarding horses and racing that would not be as universally recognised. Horse racing was set up in Mauritius to bring peace to a nation which was divided at the time between French settlers and the English who had recently conquered Mauritius in 1810. This peace has remained and horse racing is celebrated to this day, over 200 years later. Mauritius, similar to Ireland, has developed a profound relationship with horses and has integrated horses into its culture,

Every Saturday and alternate Sundays, thousands of people gather in Champ de Mars racetrack, located in the heart of Port Louis, the capital city, to celebrate horses and revel in the occasion. Over the past decades, the racing industry has become more developed but the races still hold a familial and excitable atmosphere. Although a number of racegoers dress formally for the occasion, many locals wear loose, comfortable clothing due to the heat.

Racing began in Mauritius over 200 years ago in 1812 with the formation of the Mauritius Turf Club (MTC) and construction of Champs de Mars Racecourse. Sir Robert Townsend Farquhar and Colonel Edward Draper co-founded the Mauritius Turf Club and it is the third oldest active turf club in the world.

Champs de Mars was opened on June 25th. It is located on what used to be a French military training ground, at the foot of the mountains. Champs de Mars is the oldest racecourse in the southern hemisphere and one of the oldest in the world. For the first 20 years of its existence, the track hosted races confined to Colonel Draper’s horses and then more horses were imported.


Two years before the establishment of horse racing in Mauritius, the English had taken the territory from the French. This caused a divide in Mauritius and it was hoped that the introduction of horse racing would have a pacifying effect. Both communities shared a passion for horses and the sport helped bring peace to the country. Horse racing has since become an integral part of Mauritian culture.

When racing began, Colonel Draper would race his own horses. Thoroughbreds were not imported until 1836. The first batch, thought to have been between 12 and 18 thoroughbreds, were imported from Britain and South Africa. Soon after, horses were imported from France and Germany as well. Since 1960, however, the vast majority of imports now come from South Africa, estimated to be 125 per year. There are on average 400 thoroughbreds competing each racing season and retired racehorses are relocated to riding schools throughout the island.

The right-handed oval-shaped turf track is relatively small, with a circumference of 1,298m (six furlongs) and a width of between 11m and 13m. The home straight extends on an incline and is 225m long.

Since the construction of Champs de Mars, constant efforts have been made to improve the racing surface and lessen the chances of accidents and injuries. A penetrometer, which measures the compressive soil strength, has been installed to give an exact reading of the prevailing ground conditions. Cameras placed at strategic locations around the track give the stewards a better overview of how the races unfold. In the centre of the track there are training facilities, including a sand exercising track and a trotting track. Also on the infield area is a statue of King Edward VII and the Maltaric Tomb, which is an obelisk to a French Governor.

In 1949 the Mauritius Turf Club was one of the first racing clubs to introduce a photo-finish system and blood tests are often taken before and after races. Horses are supervised in their respective stables by employees of the Mauritius Turf Club three days prior to racing and surveillance is carried out at feeding, nursing and training times throughout the day.


The racing season starts in late April or early May and continues until December. Race distances range from 1,000m (five furlongs) to 2,400m (12 furlongs), with a maximum of 11 horses per race. The Draper’s Mile (1,500m), named after the father of the Mauritius Turf Club, is one of the season’s highlights. There are four classic races and four semi-classic races in the calendar.

The Duchess of York, run over a distance of 1,400m (seven furlongs), was named after a royal visit in 1927. This is the first big race of the season and is reserved for newly imported horses.

The one-mile Duke of York Cup is contested on June 2nd each year and, known as the Championship Mile, is regarded as one of the most prestigious events of the year.

The Maiden Cup, despite its modest title, is considered to be the most important race of the year. Staged each September, this 12-furlong race is the Mauritian equivalent of the Irish Derby and a record attendance of over 100,000 watched the 1984 edition.

The racing year finishes with the International Jockeys Weekend, a tradition that started in 1984. Jockeys from around the world come to Mauritius to participate in the competition and to relax after a hard season in their own countries. There are usually 16 races at this two-day meeting and Kevin Manning took part in 2013. Frankie Dettori, William Buick, Walter Swinburn and Christophe Soumillon are past winners of the event.

In summary Mauritius is similar to Ireland in terms of the locals’ love for horses and racing. The Irish racing scene is of course far more developed but the story of how racing helped bring peace to Mauritius is surely unique.

The author is a third-year student on UCD’s Animal Science-Equine four-year degree programme. This is one of the Bachelor of Agricultural Science programmes offered by the School of Agriculture and Food Science. It focuses on the applied sciences that underpin animal and veterinary biosciences, with emphasis on the horse. Research programmes in equine genetics, reproduction, exercise physiology and chronobiology support teaching in this unique programme. A five-month work placement within the industry is an exciting component.