The annual horse races in Sanlúcar de Barrameda are famous throughout Spain and attract locals, tourists, and celebrities alike! It’s a unique event because the horses run on the sand and the race dates are chosen based on the days that have the lowest tide. The races are split into two cycles—Sanlúcar’s 2018 races will take place on August 8th, 9th and 10th (first cycle) and August 22nd, 23rd and 24th (second cycle).
If possible I’d recommend attending both cycles. If you have to choose…the second cycle (segundo ciclo) is the most popular. Local sanluqueños refer to the segundo ciclo as the closing event of summer; you’ll probably see a few Spanish celebrity appearances and there’s a huge-after party every night (learn more below).
Getting tickets to the horse races in Sanlúcar
If you want to watch the races for free just head to Playa de las Piletas (Piletas Beach). If you want to view the races from the event tent (and enjoy drinks, food, betting, big screens with live footage, trophy ceremonies, parties, etc.) you can purchase tickets online or at the even entrance. The ticket booth is located outside of the main entrance and they usually cost €11 – €13 per day (depending on the cycle).
What to wear to the races
You’ll find a mix of styles at the races. Usually foreigners and tourists go casual with jeans, shorts, swim suits, etc. Locals tend to dress in their best at the races because it’s the place to see and be seen. If you’ve been invited to one of the palcos or the company balconies I would recommend dressing up. I normallyy wear a sun dress and comfortable wedges or a dressy top with pants. Keep in mind it can also get chilly at night so you may want to wear layers.
Betting on horses
Betting makes the whole event more exciting! Before each race you can go to the horse ring and watch the contenders circle the enclosure. Choose the horse that looks the most promising and head over to the betting booth. Make sure to bring plenty of cash and keep in mind the minimum amount you can bet is €2.
There are several different types of bets you can place. When you pass through the entrance make sure to grab a pamphlet which lists the names of all the horses in each race, their weight, country of origin, and their racing number.
- Single: You can put €2 or more on any of the horses participating in the race. At the betting booth tell them the number of the horse you want to bet on and the amount of money you’ll pay.
- Double (“gemela”): If you’re feeling lucky spend €2 on a gemela bet (choose first and second place winners). Gemela bets are reversible if there are seven or more horses in the race. A reversible bet means as long as those two horses come in first and second place you’ll win (the *exact order* doesn’t matter if it’s reversible).
- Triple (“triple“): Want to gamble for the big prize? Place a triple bet and choose the horses you think will come in first, second and third place. A triple bet costs €1 and you can make it reversible for €6. The payout for a gemela or triple bet can be large—one year my brother-in-law won €700 from a triple!
There are two VIP zones at the races. The first one is a large sitting area at ground level with a private bar. The second one is an upper balcony with bleachers for viewing the races. It also offers a private bar and betting stand (not to mention bathrooms with no lines)! The only way to get into these zones is by invitation—usually from the president of the races or any of the partners/sponsors of the race.
The balconies offer some of the best views. Guests are provided free food and drinks while they watch the races from above. Different businesses like La Caixa Bank or organizations like Federacion Español de Baloncesto (the NBA of Spain) sponsor the balconies each year. The only way to get into the balconies is by invitation (you’ll receive a physical ticket/invitation) or being escorted through security by the balcony sponsor.
Palcos & after-party
Palcos to the races are like casetas to the feria—they make the event! Palcos are part of the second cycle and they’re reason why it’s the most popular cycle to attend.
Once the races finish (around 10pm) everyone goes to the palcos to eat, drink, and socialize. Each palco is private and reserved by a specific group of people. Swarms of friends and family crowd around the palcos while their hosts bring out trays of food and drinks to share.
If you don’t have a palco to attend don’t worry—keep your entrance ticket and leave to eat dinner. After eating you should return because around 12am there’ll be music, dancing and drinks. You may need to ask what time you need to return because at some point in the evening they won’t let more people in. Bring your party hat because the party can last until 6 in the morning!
Everyone goes to the palcos after the last race of the day