RACING AT THE
The Queen's Park, popularly known as the "Savannah" and perhaps even better known as the "Big Yard" - a nickname associated with horseracing originally and now with all activities taking place there, has been the foremost venue for racing events on a regular basis since 1853 when the first Grand Stand was erected.
As early as 1828, however, matches were contested there as horse riding was a healthy diversion and a fashionable pastime of many residents of Port of Spain and its environs. These ad hoe race meetings continued intermittently until 1897 when the Trinidad Turf Club was established. Thereafter, horseracing was put in its proper perspective and came to be one of the major sporting attractions staged in the savannah up to the present time. At the inaugural meeting held under this new dispensation the advertised purse for the feature event was $200. - an indication of the spectacular headway made over the decades following. With the successful promotion of racing by the Trinidad Turf Club at the Big Yard many excellent racehorses, some of them champions, vied for honours at their meetings, especially the Christmas presentations. And the competition among the riders, who incidentally added a very international flavour for a time, was no less intense and attracted large crowds.
During the war years and those following close the rivalry within the South Caribbean was lively. Racing was glamour, excitement, competition, theatre - heartbreaks and joy. Most older racegoers will remember the encounters of Ras Taffare and Sugar Lady, Pippin and Belledune, the legendary Jetsam and his Jamaican challengers Brown Bomber and Comrnando; and the sparkling performance of Zollas, Gleneagle, Ocean Pearl, Footmark, Bright Light and others.
Then dawned a new era with the likes of Aerofaith, the mighty Mentone, his stable successor Blue Sales and, of course, the illustrious Bajan creoles Pepperpot, Ferryboat and Water Lily. These were followed by the exploits of Young Turnabout, Royal Visit, Aquarius Rey Pele, Beheaded, Royal Colours to the present Renegade. Of the riders, who could forget the likes of O.P. Bennett, Steve Campbell, Sonny Holder, Abraham Joseph, Mice Lutchman holding their own in the saddle and matching the skills of Yumar, Pincay, Chappelin Harris and Gonzales of South America and Crossley, Thirkell, Yvonnet Quested, O'Neil and Durr of England and Europe to name but some of the jockeys who rode here regularly. Neither should we forget the younger generation of Caribbean riders like Chally Jones, Venice Richards, Ed De Freitas, Nolan Hajal, Emile Ramsammy, Ranjit Kissoon nor those visiting riders of world renown including Piggot, Carson, Duffield, Gillespie, Hawley and Krone who have all graced the race track at the Big Yard drawing huge crowds to witness their prowess in race riding.
Along with horse racing the Savannah catered for many other sports including football, cricket and even golf at one stage, and the Race Stand which was built in 1897 and later rebuilt in 1947 was used for viewing these activities. In addition, the Savannah is also the venue for the country's major ceremonial parades and is the main arena for celebrating the National Festival of Carnival.
Now that the years of glorious racing at the Big Yard have come to an end and the 'winds of change' have necessitated the relocation of the King of Sports to Santa Rosa, the racing fraternity, perhaps with the nostalgic pride of former generations, bids farewell to this Mecca and looks forward to the continuance of traditions handed down by the dominant Turf personalities of the past.