The horse races in Sanlúcar are back and better than ever! During the height of the pandemic this annual event was put on hold, but now it’s back in full swing and I couldn’t be happier. There are two race cycles during the month of August, and each one lasts 3 days. The cycles take place when the tide is lowest, typically at the beginning and end of the month. There are usually 4 to 5 races per day, 12 -15 races total each cycle.
My first time back at the races since the pandemic 🙌
The Carreras de Caballos (horse races) are one of Europe’s oldest equestrian contests. The true origins of Sanlúcar’s horse races are unknown; some say it started in the early 1800’s when fishermen began racing their horses on the beach to see who could take their fish to market first, others say fishmongers would race their horses along the shore as they waited for boats to bring fish to the port. In any case, the tradition originated with local Sanluqueños, and in 1845 the Sociedad de Carreras de Caballos de Sanlúcar de Barrameda (Horse Racing Society of Sanlúcar) was established, making the event the first ever regulated horse races in Spain. Ready to learn more? Check out my tips below to get the most out of the event.
1) You can get the best of both worlds
There are two ways to enjoy the races and I recommend experiencing both. Option one is to watch the races for free on the beach; bring your beach gear, pack a lunch, and make a day of it. You can enjoy the playa during the day and in the evening (around 6pm) the races will begin.
My happy place…in the VIP balconies 😜
2) Show up early and stay late
Whether you plan to watch the race from the beach or the event grounds, you’ll want to show up early. Sanlúcar’s population is 70,000 in the off season, but in summer it skyrockets to 140,000+! There’s always limited parking and tons of people, so you’ll want to grab your spot on the beach early (before lunch), or find parking near the event before the crowds arrive at 6pm. Note it’s a 30 minute walk from the Plaza de Cabildo to the Playa de las Piletas (the event grounds) or it’s a 10 minute taxi ride. Also, if you’re going to the big tent, you can scope out the horses before placing your bet; the jockeys walk them around the ring 30 minutes before each race.
Scope out the horses 30 minutes before each race
Keep in mind the last race of the day is always timed to end right at sunset (around 9:30pm), this way the sun sets just behind the finish line as the horses race across it (*hint* this is your kodak moment). During the second cycle there’s an afterparty every night, it’s the place to see and be seen. If you don’t know someone with a palco (private tent), you can leave the event, grab dinner (see my favorite restaurants), and use your ticket to get back in. There’s usually a live band and DJ, and the party can last until 7am!
The last race of the day always ends at sunset (image source)
3) Bring cash to place your bets
Make sure to bring Euros to spend at the betting booths. I’ll usually bring €20 – €40 to bet each day, but of course you can spend much more. I love betting at the races because the amounts are small and if you get lucky the return can be quite high. Here are the different types of bets you can place:
- Single (“ganador”): 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, for example, “quiero poner €2 en numero 4, ganador”.
- Double (“gemela”): If you’re feeling lucky, spend €2 on a gemela bet (choose first and second place winners). Gemela bets are automatically reversible if there are seven or more horses in the race. If there are less than seven horses you can ask to make your bet reversible for an extra €2. 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 (“trio“): 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 trio!
To collect your prize money you’ll need to wait 10 or so minutes for officiators to verify the final racing order. They’ll announce the final order over loud speakers and display the list on the big screen inside the tent. Then you can show your ticket at the betting booth to collect your payout.
I won €50 from my reversible gemela 💰 not bad for a €4 bet!
4) Dress for the occasion
If you’re watching the races from the beach then you don’t have to worry about what you’re wearing, just bring some layers to keep you warm as it usually gets chilly near sunset. If you’re watching from the tent, you’ll notice a mix of casual and dressy styles.
My advice is to dress nice but wear comfortable shoes. You’ll be walking on sand the entire time you’re there, so ladies should opt for wedges or flats instead of heels. Again, it can get chilly at night, and the tent is open air, so check the forecast before you go and bring layers if necessary.
Dressed for the afterparty
Want more info on the races? Visit my post Everything you need to know about the horse races in Sanlúcar. Want more tips on what to do in town? Check out Top 10 free things to do in Sanlúcar.