Horse Racing in the Virgin Islands and Tortola

Tortola's Ellis Thomas Downs racetrack (photo courtesy Dai Kishe)

Horse racing is popular across the Virgin Islands, and particularly amongst Tortolans. Ellis Thomas Downs racetrack in Sea Cows Bay on Tortola is one of three horse racing facilities in the Virgin Islands; St. Croix's Randall "Doc" James Racetrack and St. Thomas's Clinton Phipps complete a trifecta of horse racing facilities in the Virgin Islands.

(FYI Wagering is legal in the US Virgin Islands (which also have casinos) but is considered illegal in Tortola.

Each island hosts regular races with entrants from the VI and from other parts of the Caribbean - even Jamaica and Puerto Rico. In 2012, the VI Triple Crown was created between the three Virgin Islands' tracks - with a specific event taking place at each facility and with sponsorship from Johnny Walker. In 2013, Tortola's Really Uptown was the surprise winner of the all three legs of the VI Triple Crown, and followed it up with a win at the Governor's Cup in St. Thomas. (A youtube video of the triple crown victory is here.)

A great pride exists amongst Tortolans for their home race horses. A great conversation starter with a local is to ask about their interest in horse racing. Or just ask them about Really Uptown.

Sadly, there is a need for improvement of the horses' lives on Tortola. Proper facilities don't quite exist on the islands for the ideal treatment of race horses. And in 2016, the US Virgin Islands struck a deal with US company B & B Amusements to take over operations of the St. Croix and St. Thomas racing facilities. The deal includes some $30m in improvements - much of which to improve the horse's facilities. It also includes larger purses which could lead to the best Tortolan horses and trainers leaving for the USVI. Tortolans are worried about their own track's future and hope that the BVI can do something similar to improve the sport's future on Tortola. But that future depends on legalized gambling, something that is unlikely to be passed in the BVI.