Monday Night, the first of June – It’s windy, chilly and lashing down – Summer seems far away. But if you’re a racing fan this doesn’t matter to you. You’re going racing because you love the sport and if the opportunity arises to pay a visit to a new track you do it.
I am a racing fan and off I went to Berlin-Hoppegarten earlier this week, braving nature. It was supposed to be the highlight of my time in Germany’s massive capital, where parts of my family live. Racing’s always on my mind, though, so to miss the intended visit of Berlin’s only racecourse for thoroughbreds (there are also two tracks for harness racing) was out of question. Regardless of how bad the weather might be.
Hoppegarten racecourse is conveniently situated in the suburbs of Berlin, easily accessible with public transport. Leaving the hustle and bustle of the booming city behind, it can be a welcome change of scenery: Hoppegarten is a green oasis, full of charm and character, with a beautiful old wooden grand stand.
Once you arrive in Hoppegarten you’re going to be greeted by a relaxed atmosphere, while a delicious smell is waving through the air – a mix of freshly cut turf and charcoal-grilled Bratwurst!
No, it wasn’t exactly top class racing on offer that night – eight races, some more or less decent handicaps… no signs of glamour at all. But hey, this is Hoppegarten, not Royal Ascot!
Nonetheless a loyal crowd gathered around the parade ring for the first race – only a class 4 Handicap – to watch in awe the runners preparing. In desperate conditions the eventual winner Niron came flying down the stretch to win in style under a well timed ride from René Piechulek. After their heroics, horse and jockey paraded in front of the stands bathing in the rain but more importantly a warm applause from the locals.
And so it went on, a wet night, eight races, most of them producing some exciting finishes. There was loads of cheering and clapping, horses parading, owners, trainers and jockey joyful as if they’d won the Derby! It was a unique, honest and friendly atmosphere. As a racing fan I loved every minute of it. A good performance is a good performance, and so is a good ride, regardless of the class of the race.
Grassroots-sport…. racing in its purest form – it can be as beautiful and exciting as the colourful Derby Meeting at Epsom Racecourse – which is sure to excite us this weekend!
What you certainly wouldn’t experience at Epsom, though: a race held in almost complete darkness. So it happened in the final race on the night. A false start didn’t help the matter, nor the emerging fog. So it was more listening to the enthusiastic track commentator than seeing it, but the four year old filly Ishasha scooted clear to win the finale – and earned me a few quid – my only winner on the night!
Yes, Berlin-Hoppegarten left a lasting impression on me. I really loved it, despite the rain – and in all seriousness, it was allot of rain! Though the sun looked through the dark clouds towards the end, bathing the course in some wonderful golden light for at least a couple of minutes…. it was very special. So I can’t praise Hoppegarten highly enough. A real gem. If you’re ever in Berlin, don’t miss it!
Complete Hoppegarten Photo Gallery
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All Photos Credit: Florian Christoph