Ben Dark doesn't mind a small flutter from time to time, and while he was in the island paradise of Mauritius, he heard that locals are just as likely to go to the races as they are to the beach. Of course, he had to check that out!
The Mauritius Turf Club is the oldest in the Southern Hemisphere and second oldest after Newmarket in England. It was established in the 1600s.
On Saturday afternoons between May and November, 30,000 people flock to Port Louis to enjoy the atmosphere and maybe win a rupee or two.
Mauritius has been ruled by Portugal, the Netherlands, France and England. It was an English colonel who transformed what was a French military base into Champ de Mars racetrack in 1812. It was free to enter the spectator area in the middle of the field and it still is today. It's a good place to meet the locals and maybe get some hot tips. Racegoers have a wonderful day eating, enjoying a couple of drinks, placing a bet and laughing with friends.
The 1300m-long track is a little shorter than most and the horses are imported from South Africa. As Ben said, "boy can they run".
The excitement begins at around noon when horses are paraded and hopefuls check how they look before investing their hard-earned money. Punters swarm around Chinese bookies' red-topped kiosks looking for the best odds. Not just a big business day for bookmakers, food sellers set up stalls and delicious Indian appetisers are cheap and keep the wolves at bay.
Programs are in French, with a smattering of English and everyone uses the local Créole dialect.
The thriving and sophisticated racing community attracts jockeys from South Africa or Australia, but there are some home-grown favourites.
Owners, trainers and jockeys enjoy celebrity status and Ben met up with one of those, champion rider Shane Dye who has set up shop. He's so well known, locals hound him on the beach, hang around outside his house and even bang on his car window when he stops at the lights.
Shane says he is enjoying life in Mauritius and particularly loves the beaches. He swims every day, sharing the 28deg;C water year round with hundreds of turtles and beautiful fish and corals.
The Crown Lodge VIP area is the best place to watch the winners come in. For about $200 you have an uninterrupted view of the track, food and drink and rub shoulders with the best of them. If you fancy joining in uninhabited fun with the locals, head to the other side of the track and join in.
The beautiful island of Mauritius.
Reunion & Beyond Holidays is offering Getaway
viewers an exclusive 5-night all-inclusive holiday to Mauritius from $1830 per person twin share. It includes return economy flights with Air Austral, transfers, accommodation at the 4-star Tamassa Hotel, all meals and drinks, mini bar and water sports.
Champ de Mars races run between March and December.
Prices correct at July 15, 2010.
For further information
Reunion & Beyond Holidays
22 Kenthurst Road
Round Corner 2158
Ph: 1300 895 203
The Mauritius Turf Club
Champ de Mars
Ph: +230 211 2147
Champ de Mars
Visas: Australians do not require a visa for stays of up to 60 days. A valid passport is required.
Electricity: 230V at 50Hz.
Time zone: GMT +4.
International dialling code: +230.
It is recommended travellers to Mauritius see their doctor at least six weeks before departure. Prior to travel, travellers should be "in date" with vaccinations, including hepatitis A, hepatitis B and tetanus. They may also be at risk of malaria depending on the time of year of travel and exact destination. For further information, speak to your doctor or and visit www.smartraveller.gov.au