Vancouver Has a Horse Track?

Photo credit: Remy Scalza

Among Vancouver’s must-sees, one place that almost never gets mentioned is the old Hastings Racecourse, squirreled away next to the Playland amusement park.   Maybe it’s because horse racing has a bit of a seedy rep.  Or maybe it’s the location, out on the edge of town.  Whatever the reason, it’s a shame because a day at the races is a lot of fun.

I checked out the Racecourse for the first time on a recent Sunday. I’d never been to a race before and wasn’t sure what to expect.  My first big surprise: It’s free to watch.  You can just wander right into the racetrack area: No tickets, not even any security.

Photo credit: Remy Scalza

On a sunny day, it’s a beautiful setting.  The racetrack is set around a lush green infield.  In the background you can see the outline of the IronWorkers Memorial Bridge and the snow-capped North Shore mountains.  There’s a large, covered grandstand where you can sit and watch the races.  Better yet, head down to the track and grab a seat in the big picnic area, lined with tables and benches.

Which brings me to my next point:  It turns out horse racing (like a lot of spectator sports) is all about eating and drinking.   Tables were crowded with groups soaking up the sun, downing pitchers of beer and gorging on hot dogs, fries and other deep-fried fare from the concession stands.  The mood is festive and light, with lots of young people, families and kids.

Photo credit: Remy Scalza

Races on weekends generally start at 1:50 p.m. and are run every half-hour, often until around 5 p.m. or 6 p.m.  I didn’t place any bets, but a lot of people at the track had dollar signs in their eyes.  It was easy to identify the hardcore gamblers – nervously clutching fist fulls of betting slips; invariably swearing after every race.  But most people seemed content to bet a dollar or two, just for a little extra excitement.

Just watching the horses and jockeys, of course, is a show in itself.  Before each race, you get a little preview of the horses, which are trotted around an area to the side of the racetrack.  Then, the jockeys hop on (They look even smaller in real life) and the horses are escorted to the starting gate.  When they’re all loaded in, the gate springs open and the horses plunge down the straightaway.  The races themselves last only a minute or two, which leaves plenty of time for the eating and drinking part.

As free entertainment goes, I’d say Hastings Racecourse is a fantastic – and underappreciated – Vancouver resource.

Any other Hastings Racecourse fans out there?  What’s your perfect day at the track like?


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