Sopot horse racing tradition is older than the city itself – already in 1898, Black Hussars stationed in Gdańsk held hunting and training races on the site of today’s Hippodrome. Then, after the First World War, horse racing in its current form started to gain popularity and soon became one of the favourite pastimes of the locals and tourists spending their summer holidays at the seaside.
Today, Sopot races held in July are a one-of-a-kind event with a unique summer seaside character, attracting crowds of people to the Hippodrome. Emotions are high even though the races are very short. Spectators keep a close eye on the track since it sometimes takes a second for an inconspicuous horse to move into the lead. Such surprise victories are a common sight in Sopot. At the Hippodrome, horses run clockwise, as opposed to the track in Warsaw, where most of them train and race. For some horses, such a change of direction turns out to be very favourable.
Sopot races are flat, which means horses run over a predetermined distance on a level racecourse and are not required to jump over any obstacles. Races of Thoroughbred and Arabian horses are held separately. Additionally, for a few years, the Hippodrome has been holding sulky races of French Trotters.
Thoroughbred horses are one of the basic horse hot-blooded breeds. They come from England and are considered to be the fastest horses in the world – the best known Thoroughbred racehorses in history include legendary Secretariat, famous champion Phar Lap, and renowned mare Ruffian. They are known for their elegant, majestic silhouette, long legs, slim body, and small but well‑chiselled head. Over the years of breeding, Thoroughbred horses formed a characteristic sloping scapula, which allows them to reach a record gallop speed – up to 70 km per hour at full gallop.
Arabian horses, which are also hot-blooded, were known in the Arabian Peninsula already 2 500 years ago. These beautiful agile animals are considered to be the essence of beauty and excellent runners. Legend has it that the breed was founded by five Muhammad’s mares: Saklavi, Kuhailan, O’Bajan, Hadban, and Hamdani. In the past, Arabian horses were used as military animals, and their incredible stamina allowed armies to cover large distances. Despite their light build, they were even used as workhorses. At present, utility Arabian horses are very popular in long-distance riding and horse racing. They significantly differ from show horses, where breeding focuses on appearance and grace. Polish breeders have been working on creating a so-called Polish Arabian horse that would combine the brave spirit and stamina of a sport horse and grace and elegance typical of that breed. One of the best known of such horses was stallion Comet born on SK Nowy Dwór farm.
French Trotters races are a relatively new sport in Poland. The breed dates back to 1815, when Napoléon Bonaparte, after his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo, waived his trade restriction, and horses from Great Britain could be important to France. Breeders started to crossbreed Normandy mares with English stallions – at first, they aimed at creating a strong and resilient horse for military purposes, but over time, they started to focus on a long and fast trot. Nowadays, these horses are extremely popular also outside France, and races of French Trotters attract crowds of horse racing fans in Poland, too.
French Trotters race in carts called sulkies with one driver. As opposed to Thoroughbred or Arabian horses, which ride at full gallop, French Trotters trot. If they break into gallop during the race, they are disqualified.
This year, the Sopot Hippodrome is holding races of Thoroughbred and Arabian horses as well as of French Trotters. Get ready for six days of excitement in the middle of summer: from 12 to 14 July and from 19 to 21 July. Visit the Hippodrome to watch the fastest horses in the world.