Even though horse racing is one of the oldest sports in the world, it is not evenly distributed in terms of popularity in every country. In Europe, the United Kingdom is considered the horse racing capital, in fact, this is where the sport was born.
But what about Portugal? Is horse racing popular in this western European country considering it is pretty close to other countries like the UK and France where horse racing is very popular?
Well, the short answer is no. Portugal doesn’t have as rich horse racing culture as these countries, but in the past couple of years, we’ve seen a huge progression in the development of horse racing culture in the country.
First of all, horse racing as a sport was limited due to betting on horses being illegal until a few years ago. Since betting is a huge part of horse racing, there aren’t many racecourses and horse racing organizations that started organizing races due to this rule.
However, since Portugal has made some big changes towards attracting more tourists, one of their goals was to legalize horse racing betting as an attraction sport in order to bring more people to their country.
Miguel Rivas who is the minister behind the horse racing legalization reveals that the sport can have a huge impact on the country’s economic growth as more remote betting websites come up and visitors attend horse races from all around the world.
When it comes to horse racing popularity in Portugal there is one specific place that is considered the horse capital of Portugal. Located just 1 hour from Lisbon, Golega is considered the Portuguese horse capital. This is one of the locations with the richest horse culture and even though this is a small village, it kept its tradition for many years.
Here you can find horse riding schools, horse breeders, and their most famous Festival, Feira Nacional do Cavalo which is organized every year in November. The festival lasts for 10 days and this quiet and peaceful place gets crowded with horse enthusiasts to celebrate their traditions.
History of Horse Racing in Portugal
Horse racing activities started to get popular in Portugal around 1924, which was also the date when the first official racetrack was built. In the late 1950s we’ve seen the introduction of harness racing, and decades later the first jumping arena and cross-country circuit were funded.
One of the most popular horse racing tracks in Portugal is in Cascais, which is near Marechal Carmona Park.
This is the perfect location filled with beautiful scenery that is also protected by UNESCO as the World Heritage Natural Park surrounded by sand dunes and pine trees. This is often considered the Equestrian center of Portugal and there is a rich horse culture surrounding it.
In the late 80s and the beginning of the 90s, we’ve seen a huge leap forward in horse racing culture in Portugal. This is the time when the first Indoor Arena and its Café-Restaurant was opened making it the best Horse Riding Center for every horse enthusiast.
This is also the time when the traditional Poules of Quinta de Marinha was created, and Polo first appears in Portugal.
Even though there aren’t many major races that take place in Portugal, the country has a rich horse riding and racing tradition and works hard on improving the popularity of the sport as a tourist attraction.
In the next couple of years, we expect officials to make huge changes and probably introduce a few Grade 1 horse races that will attract horse racing enthusiasts from all around the world.
As of now, the horse racing tradition in Portugal was also limited to the laws and regulations, but since horse betting is now legal, we expect the popularity of the sport to skyrocket in the future.