When you mention horse racing most people think of Aintree, Belmont Park, Flemington, Ascot, Meydan and Epsom – but I am pretty sure that Nairobi would not be on anyone’s list of places synonymous with the gee-gees.
So when I heard about Nairobi’s Ngong Racecourse, the main and currently only thoroughbred racing venue in Kenya, my curiosity got the better of me and I decided to visit.
Ngong Racecourse is located along the Ngong Road near the Lenana School and next to the Nairobi Business Park, beside Ngong forest. And a couple of weeks ago my husband, my three children and I drove out there from our home in Westlands, central Nairobi, to spend a day at the races, or to be more specific, a day at the Fillies Guineas German Race Day.
Ever since I was a young girl I have had an active interest in horse racing, and it wasn’t because I was a horsey girl, in fact I have only ridden a horse a few times in my life, but because I was the daughter of a father who was mad on horse racing.
My dad grew up in the small village of Bangor-on-Dee in North Wales, famous for its beautifully located racecourse. So the story goes, as a lad from time to time my dad would help out at one of the stables nearby. Here he often met champion steeplechase jockey turned international bestselling crime writer Dick Francis, who had numerous links to Bangor on Dee racecourse; Dick Francis’s brother lived nearby, Bangor- on-Dee was the first real racecourse at which Francis rode and also the racecourse where he rode a hat-trick of winners on a single day.
I remember every Saturday my dad would be glued to the television watching the horse racing (or the rugby or the cricket) and for the big fixtures of the year, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Grand National the 2,000 Guineas, the Epsom Oaks, he would also pop to the betting shop for a flutter or two. Many of our family holidays in the late 1970s early 1980s were spent travelling around England in our trusty caravan, and we regularly stayed on the grounds of race courses – often taking in a family day out at the races. And so my dad’s love for ‘the sport of kings’ was passed on to me and my two sisters.
Kenya is one of only four countries in Africa to have a race track and racing as a primary sporting and social event in the country. At Ngong Racecourse there was the stereotypical horse racing crowd comprising of the smartly dressed social climbers, wiry looking jockeys, haughty racehorse owners, serious strategic betters nose deep in their race-cards, the corporate groups on a team building day and the families. In addition to the races because this was the first time in Kenya’s racing history they were holding a German Race Day, there was a food court selling German cuisine – which particularly appealed to my family who despite me being a vegetarian, are all mad on German sausages! With the addition of face-painting, live bands and an impressive aerobatic plane display, it made it a fantastic day out for pretty much everyone.
Many believe in the old saying – ‘A lovely horse is always an emotional experience of the kind that is spoiled by words’ – so I shall stop my writing there, and instead share my photographs with you.
A Great Family Day Out
We had a brilliant family day out too. And Dad, wherever you are, even though you passed away nearly 28 years ago, today your spirit and passion for horse racing still lives on and judging by the positive reaction to the day from my three children, I am sure it will continue to live on and on.
Details about horse racing at the Ngong Racecourse in Nairobi
- Fixtures take place at fairly regular intervals throughout the year for more details visit their website www.jockeyclubofkenya.com
- Prices are Adults 200 Ksh (about $2) and Kids 50 Ksh (about 50 cent)