A brief history of horse racing in Sri lanka

Horse racing in a noble and ancient sport with its origins and traditions dating back to about 4500 BC among the nomadic tribesmen of Central Asia. Known as the ‘Sport of The Kings’ it was first introduced to Sri Lanka by John Baker, when in the 1840’s he created a training course for his imported English thoroughbreds.

The Island was blessed with three race courses,the Havelock Course in Colombo, the Boossa Course in Galle and the Nuwara Eliya Course. The Nuwara Eliya Gymkhana Club organised the inaugural race meeting at Nuwara Eliya  which was held in 1875.  The upper tiers of the modest but historic grandstand housed the race stewards, members and other assorted VIPs, giving them the best view over the course. Outside of the racing calendar, the town library was located in the ground floor of the grandstand. Horse racing in Sri Lanka peaked in the 1950s.

On Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh’s first visit to Sri Lankan in 1952, during the premiership of Sir John Kotalawela, W. B. Bartleet organised two special races the Queen’s Cup run over 1 1/2 miles (for throughbreds in Class I) and the Duke of Edinburgh Cup (for Arabs in Class I).

In addition to the foreign owners who raced in Sri Lanka there were well known local owners who formed part of the famed circuit. Distinguished names like C. Wijesinghe, P. Samsudeen, the Amarasuriya Brothers, Sir Chittampalam A. Gardiner, C. Sathanathan and his wife Sheila Sathanathan, Mallory Wijesinghe, M. Abdul Cader, S. H. Moosafee and his sons Asker Moosajee, Vernon Rajapakse, L. S. B. Perera, G. B. S. Gomes, Donovan Andree and his wife Erin de Selfa, Robert Senanayake, S. R. de Silva, K. Adamally, O. E. Goonatilike and several others.

The sport saw modest growth from its early days until the dawn of the second world war which set off a series of events that spelt its gradual decline. After the re emergence of racing in Sri Lanka in 1981 the Nuwara Eliya Race Course became the only surviving race track in the country.

The Nuwara Eliya Racecourse has been restored to its former glory by the dedication of the Royal Turf Club and is situated over 6000ft above sea level making it one of the highest racecourses in the world. The track has a circumference of 1,720 meters with a 333-metre straight.