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The best places to see non-thoroughbreds race around the globe

Cinders and ashes: the climax of a race at France's "Temple of Trotting," Vincennes on the eastern edge of Paris.
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1 Vincennes (Paris, France)

Trotting or harness racing is at least the equal of thoroughbred racing in terms of popularity in France, while it far exceeds its more refined cousin in many parts of northern Europe.

With its 60,000 capacity, Vincennes, east of Paris, hosts the Prix d’Amerique, trotting’s equivalent to the Arc, which was won in fine fashion this year by Belina Josselyn.

Along with the Prix de France and the Prix de Paris, the Prix d’Amerique is run during the winter meeting, although the venue also hosts popular Friday evenings during the warmer months.

2 Solvalla (Stockholm, Sweden)

Solvalla, nestled in the Stockholm suburbs, invites 35,000 people to a weekend-long party at the end of May for the Elitloppet (or Elite Race), a mile 'sprint' over a circuit and a half, with two semi-finals and a final run on the same Sunday card.

With flags and raucous cheering, the atmosphere owes something to the world of motorsport, although horses such as 2018 Elitloppet winner Ringostarr Treb still emerge as the stars of the show.  

3 Dingle (County Kerry, Ireland)

As the schools holidays reach their height in mid-August, the whole of the Irish pony racing and flapping community descends on Dingle for most competitive three days in the calendar. A field for the rest of the year, Ballintaggart is transformed in time for the arrival of as many as 40,000 racegoers.

Spectators with a fine view at Ballintaggart, home of the Dingle Gathering Festival

The prize-money is not to be sneezed at and the competition is fierce but the real appeal is the chance to spot a future Oisin Murphy, Barry Geraghty or – whisper it quietly – local hero Jack Kennedy, who honed his skills aboard ponies on the beaches and strands of the Dingle peninsula.

4 Olympia (London)

A concert venue and exhibition centre for much of the year, Olympia is transformed the week before Christmas when it hosts the London International Horse Show.

Programme highlights include World Cup classes in dressage and show jumping but, alongside the elite of the equestrian world, the Shetland Grand National finals take place at the climax of year-round qualifying events, which take place at shows and racecourses nationwide.

The Bob Champion Cancer Trust is this year's designated charity, while all competing riders – aged between nine and 13 – must be no more than five feet tall.  

5 Los Alamitos (California, US)

The muscled-up speedsters that are American quarter horses race at more than a 100 venues across the country but Los Alamitos – founded in 1927 in the same Los Angeles suburb of Anaheim as Disneyland – can lay claim to more important races in the calendar than any other track.

California Chrome lit up the tote boards at Los Alamitos in December 2016, but when the sun goes down and the floodlights come on, it's the quarter horses who take centre stage

Four races during the all-year-round programme are worth $1 million plus, with horses spread across five categories working to qualify for the Champion of Champions meeting in mid-December.

The name 'quarter horse' derives from their optimum distance of around two furlongs, and the action is over in a flash during the exclusively evening meetings, with 'Los Al' using the rest of its oval for daytime thoroughbred meetings.

6 Will Rogers Downs (Oklahoma, US)

Oklahoma is one of ten US states to race Appaloosa horses, famed for their spotted, dalmatian-like coats and their speed over around four furlongs.  

There is not nearly as much money in Appaloosa racing as in Quarter racing – 2017 national champion Apollo’s Second Sign netted a less than princely $37,909 – but Will Rogers Downs boasts a 2,000-seater stand, as well as obligatory casino and the state’s largest mobile home park.

7 Anfa (Casablanca, Morocco)

Pure-bred Arabians take centre stage on the Sunday of the Meeting International du Maroc at Casablanca's Anfa each November

Many of the main pure-bred Arabian races across the world share notional top billing on thoroughbred cards, such as the Qatar Arabian World Cup at Longchamp on Arc day or the Khayala Classic at Meydan on Dubai World Cup night.

Anfa offers the best of both worlds with its two-day Meeting International du Maroc in November, which rolls out the thoroughbreds on Saturday and features an all-Arabian card on Sunday.

8 Al Rayyan (Doha, Qatar)

Qatar's ruling Al Thani family has emerged as a major players on the thoroughbred world stage during the last decade but, while compact Al Rayyan hosts mixed cards, there is little doubt that the local breeders and trainers take most pride in competing for the Purebred Arabian prizes on offer.

The most prestigious of these is the Emir's Sword, a race dominated in recent years by British-born Julian Smart, who trains at Sheikh Mohammed Al Thani's Al Shahania Stud, and who has sent out Ebraz and Gazwan to two successes apiece. 

Local horses race each other at Al Rayyan racecourse in Doha

Further excitement is added to the meetings with the races interspersed with a series of matches featuring local amateur riders wearing traditional hunting gear.   

9 Kharkorin (Mongolia)

The Naadam summer festival is one of Mongolia’s cultural highlights, with every locality hosting some combination of wrestling, archery and horseracing competitions.

The ancient capital of Kharkorin hosts one of the most popular, with young male riders and stocky Mongolian-bred horses both trained year-round for the endurance races, which feature a mass start and a distance varying between ten and 25 kilometres.

Such is the prestige of training the winner of a Naadam race that some unscrupulous horse owners have attempted to breed a bit of Arabian speed into the stamina-laden local stock.


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Vincennes, east of Paris, hosts the Prix d?Amerique, trotting?s equivalent to the Arc, which was won in fine fashion this year by Belina Josselyn
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