November 01, 2004

Horse racing in Malta

We watched the Breeder's Cup on TV this weekend. For Dana, my 12-year-old, the horse races ranked up there with Halloween trick or treating as the highlight of her weekend. As we watched, I thought of the sun-splashed Sunday on the island of Malta when I brought her to the national race track in Marsa. Sulky racing is big in Malta, and the track is the place to be on Sunday after church.

We paid the four dollar entrance fee and joined the crowd cheering the silk-clad drivers and their equine partners. Between races, the men in the crowd would disappear into the cool tunnel behind the grandstand where a line of betting windows had been cut into a wall. They laid down wagers on trotters like D'Artagnan, Pay Night and other local favorites. Everyone was laughing and enjoying the Sunday afternoon scene -- the spectators, the bettors, the men booking the bets. They joked and talked and smiled. Comfortable amounts of money were on the line. Amounts that could be shrugged off if lost.

Outside the racecourse, grooms and sulky drivers led shiny-coated trotters, some harnessed to their carts, through Marsa's dusty, narrow streets. The sun turned the silk on the drivers' uniforms into electric blues and reds and yellows and bathed the pastel stucco of Marsa's old buildings in brilliant, ochre light. I watched the people. Dana watched the horses. It wasn't the Breeder's Cup. It was better. A day at the races, Maltese style.

Travel America with excerpts from Lori's Ribbons of Highway: A Mother-Child Journey Across America