A traditional horse racing event is to go ahead in Gozo on Thursday afternoon despite recent legislation banning horse-drawn carriages (karozzini) during hot July and August afternoons.
Michael Caruana, president of the Soċjetà Filarmonika Leone, said the event’s organisers had consulted the national authorities on how best to conduct the races.
The races, he said, took just over a minute each, from the school in Republic Street, Victoria, to the upper end of the road.
Animal welfare laws which were enacted in July keep karozzini horses out of the searing heat between 1-4pm. While there is no mention of this ban extending to horse races, the event seems to disregard the spirit in which the legislation passed – namely, to prevent horses being made to work in extreme temperatures.
The afternoon races have been held for many years to celebrate the feast of Sta Marija in Gozo.
A spokesman for Animal Rights Parliamentary Secretary Clint Camilleri, said each of the competing horses had been certified fit to race.
The spokesman said the authorities had insisted that structures providing shade for the horses between races be installed.
Protective barriers will separate the crowds from the galloping horses along the road.
A 72-year-old Gozitan woman was seriously injured last year when she was hit by a galloping horse in the middle of the road. Similar accidents happened in Gozo in 2015 and 2011.
The secretariat's spokesman said vets will also be on site and riders will not be permitted to use spurs or crops.
Asked why the races were not being held in the evening when temperatures dip, the spokesman said that while the event started at around 2pm, the actual racing would begin at approximately 3pm, with races going on till just after 6pm.
This is not the first time the timing of the event has been criticized. In 2017, the then Commissioner for Animal Welfare, Emanuel Buhagiar, said he was against races being held at 2.30pm in the blazing summer sun and had insisted that common sense prevail and the races be held in the morning.
The races were also called into question by a court last year when one of the riders was accused of causing his horse unnecessary pain.
“How can such races be permitted in honour of some patron saint,” Magistrate Joe Mifsud had asked, stressing that such events should only be allowed along authorised racecourses at Marsa and ta-Xħajma in Gozo, but certainly not on public roads.