Spain is not known as one of horse racing’s heartlands but, nonetheless, it provides opportunities for placing some bets on interesting races held in exotic locations.
When it comes to venues, the Hippodrome de la Zarzuela is one of the best known. Located in the capital, Madrid, it is an iconic venue which represents the history of horse racing in Spain. It is located in the heart of the city, and its accompanying facilities, including a hotel, can easily make it a fan favourite. The course was restored to its original design lines in 2003 and is considered to be one of the most spectacular and architecturally remarkable courses in Europe. It is seen as the archetypal Madrid racecourse and is part of the tradition of the sport in the city. It is said to be inspired by the San Siro football stadium in Milan.
Then there is the Hipodromo Costa Del Sol, catering for the huge number of tourists who flock to the beaches of southern Spain every year, as well as the local racing fans. It offers floodlit racing, two different tracks and a 5,000-capacity grandstand, with the same amount being seated by the track. This is the place to race for the big prize money, and the course holds races during the winter off season from October to May when most of the other venues in Spain are shut. Some of the trainers from Northern Europe actually take their horses to the Hipodromo Costa del Sol for winter stabling, such is the high standard of its facilities.
For those that literally can’t get themselves off the beach, there are the Carreras de Caballos races which are held annually in August at Andalucia’s Sanlúcar de Barrameda beach, not far from Jerez de la Frontera. This event dates all the way back to 1845 and is one of the first regulated horse racing events to have been held in Spain. It is thought that for years before that, races had been held among the working horses whose usual job was to take fish to nearby towns from the beach.
This is no small occasion – over 50,000 spectators attend and prize money is into seven figures. The race is run over two kilometres with the showpiece ‘Gran Premier Ciudad de Sanlúcar’ headlining on the final day. Racing fans will be familiar with the caps and colours sported by the jockeys, but maybe less used to seeing horses galloping over the sand! The King of Spain himself is President of the Racing Club and has known to be a keen visitor to the event. While the Andalucian beach races provide a welcome boost to the tourist trade in the region, hotels are known to be booked up well in advance, meaning there can be a mad scramble to secure rooms.
The Hipodromo de Sanlucar de Barrameda in Cadiz and the Hipodromo de Pineda in Seville are also courses which see action throughout the year. And another famous venue is the Las Mestas Sports Complexin Gijón, which dates back to 1942 and can accommodate up to 10,000 fans.
Spain is not home to jockeys with a global profile, but among the best known are Jorge Horcajada, with several major wins in Italy and Spain, and Román Martín Vidania, who represented Spain in the world championships. Perhaps the best known Spanish jockey in history was Beltrán Alfonso Osorio, 18th duke of Alburquerque. He became obsessed with winning the Grand National steeplechase at England’s Aintree course after watching the race as an eight-year-old, and in several attempts managed to break multiple bones and endanger his life with his last run, which saw him enter a coma for two days. Aged 57, he was banned from applying for a licence for his own safety.
At the time of writing, there are no Spanish racing events available to bet on with any UK providers, but keep your eye on sites such as RaceBets and Betfair for odds on Spanish races. These two companies have a reputation for offering betting options on horse racing events around Europe, not just in the UK.
An increasing number of Spaniards are coming to like the sport, and their numbers at racecourses up and down the country are bolstered by the huge number of visitors from all over Europe, some of whom choose to hold their stag and hen dos at the races. Racing is Spain is unique, colourful and the fans are no less passionate than in many European racing hotbeds.