The horse races of Sanlúcar de Barrameda is the biggest event of the year! The races, or carreras, has two cycles; the first cycle takes place in the beginning of August and the second one towards the end of the month. The cycle dates are chosen based on which days have the lowest tides (because the horses race on the beach).
The 2017 race dates are August 3, 4 and 5th and the second cycle will take place on August 17, 18 and 19th. You should try to attend both cycles if possible; everyone in town will be there and sometimes we have a few celebrity appearances too! Keep in mind the second cycle (segundo ciclo) is the most popular—partly because more people are on vacation in the end of August but also because everyone wants to attend the palco parties after the races each night. Many people refer to the segundo ciclo as the closing event of summer so it’s not to be missed!
Getting your tickets
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 entrance. The ticket booth is located at the entrance of the event and tickets can be purchased for €11 – €13 per day (depending on the cycle).
What to wear
The first cycle is more casual compared to the second and during the races almost any type of attire will do—keep in mind people watch the races in their swim suits on the beach during the day so you’ll see people in jean shorts, t-shirts, and sandals. At night you may see girls wearing elegant dresses or “club clothes” and heels. Also, you’ll want to look nice if you’ve been invited to one of the palcos or the company balconies. I tend to wear something in between the two extremes when I attend the races and go with short flowy dresses and comfortable wedges. In the photo below my friend and I were invited to the after parties at the palcos so we got a bit more dressed up. 😉
Place your bet
Betting makes the whole event more exciting! Before each race you can go to the horse ring and watch the contenders circle around. Choose the horse that looks the most promising and head over to the betting booth. You can place a minimum bet of €2 on one horse, or if you’re feeling lucky try betting on a gemelo or “twin” (first and second place winners – reversible) which costs €2 or a triple (first, second and third place) which costs 1 euro and if you want to make the bet reversible it costs €6. The payout for the gemelo or triple bets can be quite big – one year my brother-in-law won €700 from a triple bet!
There are two VIP zones at the races; the first is a large sitting area at ground level with a private bar and the second is an upper balcony with bleachers for viewing the races and features a private bar and betting stand (not to mention bathroom 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 are ideal for enjoying the races. They feature tents where guests are provided free food and drinks while they watch the races from above. Usually companies sponsor these balconies like La Caixa Bank or the Federacion Español de Baloncesto (the NBA of Spain) for example. The only way to get into the balconies is by receiving an invitation/pass or if you happen to be friends with any of the balcony hosts (they can escort you past security).
Palcos & after-party
Palcos to the races are like casetas to the feria – they make the event! Groups of people reserve a tent and chip in to buy food and drinks for themselves and friends and family they invite to join them. During the second race cycle the palcos are set up outside of the main tent and once the races finish (around 10pm) people make their way out to the palcos to enjoy the rest of the evening. Swarms of people crowd around each tent while their hosts bring out trays of food and drinks to share. In the event tent there’s usually a DJ or band playing where people can drink and dance until 6am in the morning.