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Controversy surrounds Saint-Josse horse-racing event

14:16 22/08/2023

The Brussels municipality of Saint-Josse will be hosting a horse race on 16 September, transforming the area around the neighbourhood’s square into a course in which 16 horses and their riders will compete.

The event comes complete with a bookie for taking sports bets, but the Belgian capital’s animal welfare minister, Bernard Clerfayt (DéFI) has expressed serious concerns about the legality of the event, along with the potential treatment of the horses set to compete.

“Seriously?” asked Clerfayt in a post on X/Twitter), reacting to news of the event. “Since 1986, it has been expressly forbidden to organise a horse race on the public highway on a hard surface.

"An investigation is therefore under way. The welfare of the horses concerned must be ensured and preserved."

Clerfayt said the plans for the event caught him by surprise and he has therefore ordered an investigation into whether it complies with legal provisions on animal welfare.

The event will be free to attend and is being organised by the municipality, the non-profit organisation Time For Others and the Belgian Horse Racing Federation, Bruzz reports.

The race on Place Saint-Josse will be a "short-track race", meaning a short-distance race in which the jockey sits in a light two-wheeled cart attached behind the horse.

“Specialised camions will lay out race tracks on the square in sand to run on beforehand,” explained Max Struys of Time For Others.

“Specifically, in the race, 16 horses will run in short trotting races. So it will be sprints at around 200 metres of two horses against each other each time.”

Participants will compete against each other in an elimination system similar to tennis, with three runs per duo each time. To qualify for the next round, one must win two runs.

The whole event will thus count between 40 and 60 runs and will last about three to four hours with a number of rest breaks for the horses.

The riders, officially called "drivers" in this type of race, are professionals from all over the country and can win prize money that totals some €7,500.

Besides the race, attendees will be entertained by various activities including a brass band and ponies for children, although it is not clear whether the ponies would be for viewing or riding – Brussels and Flanders recently banned the riding of ponies, horses or other equine animals at fairs or public events due to animal welfare concerns.

In terms of why Saint-Josse was chosen for the event, Struys said: “We were really looking for a place in the heart of Brussels and Place Saint-Josse is also a fantastic location for this.”

While Clerfayt tagged mayor Emir Kir in his social media post expressing concern about the event, Kir has so far enthusiastically endorsed it.

“Don't miss this unique opportunity to experience the spectacular magic of horse racing,” he wrote on social media, the message accompanied by a string of horse emojis.

Written by Helen Lyons