Port Vila’s Cup Runneth Over 2009: Its Race

Port Vila’s Cup runneth over

IT’S the race that stops a nation – a South Pacific dot of a nation, that is.
Race day in Vanuatu beats Flemington’s party atmosphere hands down. Every July, Australians flock to Vanuatu’s capital, Port Vila, for a piece of the action. The race even lures Aussie stewards and race callers – all for a good cause, of course. As the only horse race in Vanuatu, the annual Kiwanis Charity Cup attracts 10,000 hardy souls to a makeshift course between the airport and the abattoir. How convenient for the nags who run last. On paper, it sounds like a hellish place, but the track is gorgeous and awash with colour on race day. Every year, an extraordinary group of volunteers transforms scrubby jungle into racing heaven. In recent years, they have built a white wooden fence around the 1200m course. The marquees may be more like tarpaulins, and the jockeys often go barefoot, but the French bubbly flows freely and the atmosphere is electric. “It’s a cracker of a weekend,” says Melbourne builder and race veteran Ryan Foots, who now lives in Port Vila. “Each year, a lot of my mates come over from Melbourne. They haven’t seen anything like it. Everyone puts in a huge effort to prepare the track and set up the tents, and then we have a three-day party.” Punters can have a flutter on eight races on the day from a local tote run by a team of Port Vila bank clerks. But the contest on the track pales next to the blistering competition in the fashions on the field. Dozens of locals and visitors dress up in their finery for the chance to win lucrative prizes. Most punters prefer shorts and thongs to designer gear – and they’re all welcome. And temperatures usually stay in the mid-20s, so it’s perfect weather. The party begins on a Thursday with a swanky charity ball at a five-star resort, continuing on Friday with a calcutta dinner. As a Port Vila race week survivor, I recommend attending every event. It’s a great way to meet the locals, while raising money for local schools through the Kiwanis club. Race chairman Peter Wilson has been involved with every race since the event began in 1985. He says the race moved from site to site for many years, forcing organisers to carve out a new track from scratch every July. But in recent years, the local abattoir has given the race a home. And, no – losing nags aren’t sent to the slaughterhouse. Getting there: Fly from Sydney to Port Vila via Noumea.
Package: Iririki Island Resort in Port Vila has a seven-night package with tropical breakfast for $1475 per person twin share, including return fares on Air Vanuatu must be booked by February 27, for travel by September 17 this year. Pacific Specialist Holidays, 13 13 81.

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