Welcome to Buccoo, Tobago -- goat racing capital of the world
By ANGELA POTTER
BUCCOO, Tobago -- Andy Montique stretches his legs and arms, grabs his goat Foreigner by a rope, then narrows his gaze on a long patch of grass and the chalked finish line.
``Go!'' yells the starter.
Montique and seven other goat jockeys bolt from the starting gate, chasing after their charges.
One renegade goat tears away from his jockey, darting into the crowd. Others veer toward the sidelines, forcing their jockeys to desperately regain control and steer them back to the center.
While Buccoo doesn't loom large among the names of famous sports
arenas, the tiny Caribbean village on Trinidad's sister island of Tobago
considers itself the goat
racing capital of the world.
``It's the mecca,'' says Orville London, an official in the local government.
Goat races are a bit different from horse racing: The jockeys run behind their animals, holding them by leashes. Each jockey carries a twig to whip their goats to go faster and try to keep them from veering off the course.
``It's a unique combination of the athletic prowess of man and animal,'' London says, claiming a spot in the shade before the races.
Every year, on the Tuesday after Easter, the entire village transforms itself into a sporting arena, as goats dash the 100 yards pursued by jockeys running barefoot and wearing white silk shorts and brightly colored jerseys.
The Buccoo Goat Race Festival, which started in 1925 as a working class alternative to horse racing, was scheduled on Easter Tuesday because Good Friday and Easter Saturday already were taken for marble pitching. Easter Sunday was a day of feasting, and Easter Monday was for horse racing.
While horse racing and marble pitching no longer exist on the island, goat racing has thrived.
``It's not just about the goats,'' London says. ``It's the event and the setting. It's the ambience.''
But that doesn't mean the sport isn't taken seriously, he says.
Before the race, more than 2,000 people scurry for viewing spots.
Some lay down wads of cash to bet on their favorite goat. ``Two for Foreigner!'' one man cries. Others bet on Red Rum, Nuclear Rocket and 007.
The jockeys relax and visualize victory.
``You have to be very fit,'' says Montique, 33, stretching out in the grass waiting for the start. ``The training is very hard.''
In this sport, the speed of the goat is as important as the ability of the jockey to keep up. But sometimes the rhythm is off.
``There has always been a debate as to what's more important -- the speed of the man or the speed of the goat,'' London says.
This year, as Montique, the pre-race favorite, nears the finish line, his goat slips into second place.
The championship title instead goes to Nuclear Rocket, guided by 35-year-old David Adams and trained by George Clark.
The prize is 1,000 Trinidadian dollars (about $160), a bottle of rum and a trophy with a golden goat perched on top.
``I'm the oldest jockey,'' says Adams, who has won too many championships to count. ``Jockeys, when they reach a certain age, they drop out. I continue.''
Goat racing, which also has caught on in Guyana and may be starting
soon in St. Lucia, is drawing more and more tourists every year, says Anthony
``What makes the event a success is the foreigners,'' he says. ``They look forward to the event more than even the locals do. They come in and take part in the betting.''
Nancy and Scott Normali of Los Angeles have brought their 10-year-old son, Robert, to Tobago for a week's vacation not knowing they'd be swept up in the excitement of the island's annual sporting event.
``It's kind of cool,'' Nancy Normali says. ``We ought to do this in L.A.''