Excerpt from Horse Chapter

I have finished the first draft of a book chapter that combines work on raid, peña folklorica, cumbia, and the concept of joda, all items I’ve broached on this blog before. Here is an excerpt with a bit more background knowledge on history of equestrian sports in Uruguay:

 

Raid is not the only equestrian sport in Uruguay. Turf, dressage, and jineteada gaucha, an Austral cousin of the rodeo, all have their place. While the national football stadium, the Estadio Centenario is undoubtedly Uruguay’s greatest sporting monument, and indeed any monument; two equine venues in the capital also play prominently in national consciousness.

 

Uruguay’s first hippodrome was built in 1874 by a community of English immigrants in Maroñas, on the northeastern outskirts of Montevideo, where land was cheap and plentiful. In 1888, prominent citizens of both English and Creole descent founded the Jockey Club de Montevideo. These same civic leaders advocating modernization through Haussmanian urban renewal viewed horse racing as a beacon of progress. The next year they built a new hippodrome on the original site.

 

Horse racing gained more traction in 1912, when reformist president—and namesake of the town down the road from Cerro Chato—José Batlle y Ordoñez banned bullfighting. To be clear, both the town and the president are simply called Batlle, which in Rioplatense Spanish sounds like VAH-shay. Batllista reforms even extended to the Jockey Club, as members benefited from a wave of pension reform in the 1920s. Such was Uruguay’s level of social progressivism in its Golden Age. Throughout much of the 20th century, the Club and the Hippodrome led healthy lives. Maroñas saw the rise of many jockeys who went on to fame, notably in Argentina, and it went through multiple structural reincarnations, as the Jockey Club sought some of Uruguay’s most highly regarded architects to design pavilions.

 

But like many once strong institutions in Uruguay, club and track fell into disrepair during the military dictatorship in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1997, the Jockey Club closed its doors, and the hippodrome lay vacant. It was under the watch of another president from Uruguay’s most successful political family–Jorge Battle, the great nephew of José—that Maroñas was resurrected. In 2003, through the national gambling board, Casinos del Estado, the state awarded the hippodrome to a joint Argentine-Uruguayan business venture in a 30-year concession. Over $30 million (USD) have since been invested in renovations.

 

Since re-opening, Maroñas and its entertainment brand has been a success, on the track, and in the slots. 43,000 Uruguayans live directly or indirectly from horse racing. That’s more than one percent of the population. The popularity of turf means prizes are twice as high than in Brazil. In 2013, the national vocational school, UTU (Universidad de Trabajo del Uruguay) even decided to make a jockey course for junior-high students, and registration has been a hit.

 

The other venue is the Rural del Prado, smack in the middle of Montevideo’s Prado Park. For ten days in early September, it welcomes people from across the country for the Expo Prado, which is Uruguay’s equivalent of a state fair, but without the rides. In between eating asado de tira and watching a military band parade, I caught a horse show sponsored by the Sociedad Criadores de Caballos Árabes del Uruguay (Society of Raisers of Arabian Horses in Uruguay). With my technical knowledge of dressage seriously deficient, I chose to be amused instead by the both sensible and incongruous fact that men in suits were parading Arabian horse to the beat of Arab pop music…in Uruguay.

 

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