We were encouraged by several of the locals to stay long enough to attend the horse races that weekend. We were told it would be like nothing we had ever before seen. They were right, and we're very glad we took their advice. It turned out to be our favorite Caribbean experience thus far.
The horse races on Nevis are more of a social event than a gambling arena although betting does take place. Families gather at the track that overlooks the ocean. Some set up charcoal barbecues and cook chicken and ribs, which they sell to other attendees. Also offered for sale are sodas that they've brought in coolers and a variety of chips and candies. In the time between races, which can be as much as an hour, everyone mills about, exchanging greetings and news of families and friends as well as placing bets. Nor were we excluded. The bartender of a restaurant we had dined at spotted us and offered to buy us a drink; a Nevisian whom we had met earlier that week at Sunshine's shared his "picks" with us; a dock worker stopped to chat with us; and one of the race's organizers called home to have his wife get the lastest weather report from the internet for us when he learned we planned to sail off the next day. But, on to the races, which seem only secondary.
There are no starting gates at this race track; instead, two flagmen stand some distance apart, and the jockey must get his horse under control by the time he reaches the second flagman or it becomes a false start. False starts were frequent, and more than one horse tried to unseat its jockey. There are not a large number of horses running. One race had as few as three horses, and the most that competed in any one race were six. The viewing bleachers are smaller than those of a rural school's football field. My husband and I had great seats that were no more than fifteen feet from the finish line.
The cheering is every bit as loud as you might hear at a race track in the United States, but missing are the stressed-out faces of those who may have over-extended themselves in their bets. The entire atmosphere is both convivial and relaxed. In other words, typical Nevis!