If there’s one thing in which Tobago leads the world, then it is the (albeit fairly obscure) sport of goat racing. The word “racing” may sound like a malapropism, particularly as it takes place in a village whose name sounds like a syllable-challenged Buckaroo. But this is all for real: the Buccoo Integrated Facility (BIF) is a multi-million dollar goat-racing track, with grandstand, stables and paddocks, in the south-west of Tobago.
The BIF describes itself as “world class”, and it has good reason to; in fact, the big Easter championships which take place here, attended by thousands, might as well call themselves the World Championships, given that nowhere in the world does goat racing in such style. And you don’t have to be around for Easter, either, because the racing is now a feature of Buccoo’s Sunday. If you want to make a (very long) day of it, you can stay on in the village for the celebrated Sunday School, which despite the sobriety of the name is an exhilarating evening of dancing, drinking and eating spread across several village venues.
But back to the goats. The sport has a long tradition in Buccoo, starting in 1925, and the sheerscale of the BIF demonstrates how seriously it is taken. The track flaunts a traditional, manually operated 10-goat starting gate, and the course is 120 metres of carefully tended grass, with the finishing stretch flanked by a long grandstand and a VIP Pavilion.
Thoroughbred goats come thundering down the turf, hauling along their sprinting “jockeys” at the end of nine feet of rope. For the big festival these jockeys wear professional outfits, but for most Sundays they are likely to be in T-shirt and shorts. They need to be fast runners, because the goats are faster. A truly eager goat – and they all seem pretty competitive – is well capable of pulling his jockey over, and each race invariably has one or two animals, which arrive at the finishing line like a riderless horse.
Even if you don’t manage to get to Buccoo for Sunday racing, there’s a good chance of coming across evidence of the sport elsewhere. In the early morning, down on the beaches of Tobago, you may well see a man taking his goat for a swim. Not exactly normal behaviour, but then that won’t be a normal man and his goat: it’ll be a champion, and his trainer.
Visiting there The Buccoo Easter goat-racing festival takes place at the Buccoo Integrated Facility on Tuesday 7 April (buccoointegrated.org).
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