Easter weekend is to Tobago what Carnival is to Trinidad: an unofficial national holiday when hotels are filled to the brim and the island erupts with festivities. A succession of huge open-air parties and well-attended harvest feasts culminate on Easter Tuesday at the Buccoo goat races, a tradition since 1925. Though attempting to race one of the world’s most belligerent animals may seem a little ridiculous to the uninitiated, these tournaments are taken very seriously by aficionados, who study the form (and character) of the sleekly groomed animals and place bets on their favourites. Raised separately from the run-of-the-mill roadside grazer, racing goats undergo a rigorous training routine and return to the tracks year after year. Prize specimens live out their days as stud goats to breed more potential champions.
The preliminary round at the Mount Pleasant Family Fun Day on Easter Monday gives everyone a chance to see which goat is running best, but the main event is at Buccoo on the Tuesday. Food vendors and craft stalls line the streets and a carnival atmosphere builds as fast as the crowds, who are kept entertained by dancing and drumming in between stakes. Smartly attired in white shorts and coloured vests, the jockeys limber up by the side of the tracks, a necessary exercise, as their ability to keep up with their goat (and keep hold of it) over the 150m race has more influence on their success or failure than the capabilities of the goat itself: animals are raced at the end of a rope, and kept on course via taps from a long switch. Once the jockeys manage to manoeuvre their malignant charges into starting position, the actual races are a joy to watch. With wild-eyed stares, the goats tear haphazardly down the track, often taking a diagonal course that trips up competitors and runners alike, to the delight of the spectators. The best of the bunch battle for supremacy in the final “Champ of Champs” race, while “Champion Jockey”, “Champion Trainer” and “Most Outstanding Goat” prizes are also presented.
Once all the races are over on Tuesday, the final all-night party swings into action, and the dancing continues until dawn.