Enjoying a day at the horse races in Bangkok
An unusual and often overlooked day out in Bangkok is a day at the horse races. You may be one of only a handful of foreign faces at the track but with a few tips – both from the racing press and in how to enjoy your day – it can be an exhilarating experience.
Racing takes place at two tracks in Bangkok – at the Royal Turf Club in Phitsanulok Road otherwise known in Thai as the Nang Lerng track and at the Royal Bangkok Sports Club in Henri Dunant road between Rama IV and Pathumwan.
Of these the RBSC is probably the best to visit as its location in the heart of the city lends it a special atmosphere and ambience. Racing has been happening there since Rama V King Chulalongkorn got back from one of his visits to Europe towards the end of the 19th century. He bestowed a tract of land to start the country’s first track with the aim of promoting the sport that he had seen in Europe on his travels.
Entrance can be had for as little as 50 baht though it may be better to pay a few hundred to secure a better view. A good idea at RBSC is to pay to enter the committee room that may require booking in advance but it is great value at 1,000 baht with the best view at the track and a buffet dinner thrown in.
Punters can also bet in the restaurant. Betting on horseracing – at the track itself – is one of only two avenues for legal wagering in Thailand. The other is the state lottery. Bets can be placed for as little as 50 baht to many thousands as you wish. There is betting on win, place and various two and three horse forecasts.
Races are held mostly on Sundays and some Saturdays and alternate between the RBSC and the RTC. First race is usually off around 12.30 and they continue to about 6pm. There are usually ten races.
Race cards can be bought for a few baht from the numerous vendors around the tracks and while the form is mostly in Thai language the names of the horses are always in English. Binoculars can be hired for a small fee and a deposit.
Punters should be aware of some very big differences to races in most western countries. Firstly the post time seems to be when the horses leave the paddock area. Certainly most races are actually off up to ten or fifteen minutes after the advertised “off’ time. Also do not think when the horses have been loaded into the stalls that the race will start imminently. For some reason the horses wait a very long time in the stalls before they are allowed to go.
Studying the colours of your horse will greatly help with your following of the race. This is because the commentary is in Thai and is very hard to understand even for those adept at the Thai language.
All betting is supposed to take place through the official Tote system. The odds for each runner in win and place terms are displayed on giant boards but beware – the market in the early stages of betting on each race is very unpredictable with the likely odds only known much nearer to the off time. People who like to bet on favorites should wait as long as possible. Betting on favorites is likely to give you a few winners on the ten race program though many will be short priced winners.
Food is available – mostly Thai style snacks – in many parts of the tracks and the price is very reasonable. Most of the crowd is overwhelmingly male and be aware that children are not permitted entry at all.
The next races at the RBSC are the meetings on Sunday June 5th and Saturday June 18th. Races will be held at both the RBSC and RTC on alternative weekends and fixtures can be checked on their websites. Parking is available at both tracks but is rather limited so taking a taxi is a good idea.
I remember doing just that when I was a tourist visiting Bangkok in the early eighties. I told the driver I wanted to visit the races and we agreed the fare. He then took me to a jewelers. OK, I knew the score so I pretended to be interested. Then he took me to a crocodile boot shop. Again I went along with his plan, I had some time to kill after all. But I drew the line at the third jewelers after another stop and he finally took me to my destination in time for the second race.
Without a word he parked his taxi, hired more comfortable shoes and binoculars and not only did he go into the track too but he paid my entrance fee for me.
Happy days at the Bangkok horse races.