Founded in 1812, the Champ de Mars Racecourse is the oldest racecourse in the Southern Hemisphere and the second oldest in the world. Located in Mauritius’ capital of Port Louis, the track held its first races in June 1812, the same year that British forces took over the island from the French. 156 years later, the country finally declared its independence right here at the racecourse.
The Champs de Mars Racecourse was created under the auspices of the Mauritius Turf Club, founded by Britain’s Colonel Draper. Before 1810, the area was a military training ground for French troops. The course has a circumference of 1,298 meters (4,258 feet), and viewers can spectate from stadium seating as well as private lodges. Inside the course, you’ll find a statue of King Edward VII by sculptor Prosper d’Épinay as well as an obelisk known as the Malartic Tomb, which pays tribute to a French governor.
Today, the races meet a high international standard, and racing is one of the country’s most popular sports. Mauritius’ big horse races include the Duchess of York Cup, Barbé Cup, Maiden Cup, and the Duke of York Cup. The horses and jockeys come mostly from South Africa and Australia, and the racing season extends from April to November, with races held on weekends. The manager and owner are known to be very friendly and welcoming to visitors, and might just show you around if you run into them.
You can stroll up to Champ de Mars from the harbor, nestled in a valley surrounded by the country’s jagged volcanic mountains, all while enjoying the soft Indian Ocean breeze. Afterwards, you can head back downtown, past the mosques and Chinatown, the British statues and French-language schools, for any of the country’s many cuisines.