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Easter Goat and Crab Racing

On the run at the Buccoo Goat Racing Festival. Photographer: Richard Rawlins

On the run at the Buccoo Goat Racing Festival. Photographer: Richard Rawlins

Buccoo Goat & Crab Racing Festival, and Mt. Pleasant Goat Race

Perhaps the most unique of all Tobagonian traditions is the Goat and Crab Races. At Easter time, only Friday and Monday are official holidays, but Easter Tuesday is not really a day for work in Tobago: people head to Buccoo in droves for the Family Day and Goat & Crab Races. In fact, the Festival is so nice it’s done twice: first at Easter, and then again for the Heritage Festival mid-year.

The event is held on Easter Monday and Tuesday at Mt. Pleasant and at the Buccoo Beach facility, the main location. In Buccoo, the action kicks off in the morning with a street parade, followed by races and entertainment. There’s also lots of eats, drinks, craft and souvenir on sale.

Started in 1925 by Samuel Callender, goat racing is a response to the colonial class’ pastime of racing thoroughbred horses in Trinidad. Here you can watch competing goats race helter-skelter to the finish line, prodded by barefoot “jockeys” who sprint behind their charges — holding them at the end of long ropes. This is a serious business for the owners, trainers, jockeys and those who place unofficial bets.

All the trappings of horse racing are still there – stables, trainers, live commentators – except that the “jockeys” have to run alongside their steeds. On each occasion, there is special training for the goat jockeys, and a 110m track is constructed especially for this race; even Virgin Atlantic’s Richard Branson has taken part. Alpines, Toggenburgs and Saanens, all a head above the garden variety of goat you’ll meet grazing roadside, have special diets (oats, vitamins, pigeon peas for iron) and training regimens for months. Stamina and muscular strength is built by taking the goats swimming — and their jockeys must make sure to be equally fit and fast, lest their goats outrun them in competition and cause them disqualification. Some say nanny goats are better runners, but that billy goats are still preferred because they live longer. Well-tended goats can live to their teenage years.

At race time, the goats are decked out in their coloured coats, as impressive looking as any Arab stallion — and can they move! Not all contestants compete equally, though. the Festival Committee classifies them as first-time runners (C2); runners from the previous year (C1); those running the previous two years (B); and the most experience A-class competitors.

As for the crab race, here jockeys use a short length of string to guide the competing crustaceans toward a checkered flag (poking and prodding are also legitimate techniques). The crabs’ somewhat dubious reward for their usually slow, sideways effort is inclusion in a pot of crab ’n’ dumpling…

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A team of of writers discovering Trinidad & Tobago for 25 years and counting!

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