In years gone by, the people of Hungary were renowned for their equestrian expertise. The magnificent landmark statue in Heroes’ Square commemorates the ancient Magyar tribes, where seven victorious chieftains sit proudly on horseback overlooking their beloved capital Budapest.
An annual sporting event since 2008, the National Gallop was designed around this central monument in honour of the nation’s cultural heritage. One of the best events in Budapest, this year marks the seventh anniversary, when hundreds of thousands of spectators are expected to flood the arena during the three-day competition. Individual events include ceremonial parades featuring horse riders on bareback, celebratory war games, and riding schools where spectators can get back in the saddle. But the highlight of this festival is the races, where thousands of Euro in cash prizes are waiting to be won. Dare we say it? Ascot’s got nothing on this.
With the dates already confirmed for 16-18th September 2016, anticipation is building for this major cultural and sporting event. Heroes’ Square is positioned right at the heart of Budapest, between the grand culmination of Andrássy Avenue, the Kunsthalle, and the Museum of Fine Arts. Each year the central square is covered with thousands of tonnes of sand, and transformed from a prominent landmark into a great imperial arena, framed by the neoclassical museums on either side.
Day One is heralded with the arrival of spectators, and the inaugural Kitchen of Hungary: a bustling marketplace of food tents serving traditional Hungarian dishes. Feast on generous plates of goulash and homemade dumplings, washed down with a glass of speciality Bull’s Blood or sweet Tokaji wine. Still hungary? No problem – the hospitable kitchen remains open the following afternoon and the next, to keep the spectators and competitors happy.
Day Two and the competitors begin their practice, with individuals warming up for the main event. The opening ceremony proceeds with all the usual pomp along Andrássy Avenue, and the crowds gather to watch the spectacle. The afternoon is occupied by various qualifying rounds, punctuated by a carriage gallop, celebrity charity race, and a competition of show jumping with prizes.
Day Three arrives and the competition begins to hot up, but everything is still to play for. Events become accelerated, with the handicapped riders’ presentation and competition, the foal championship, and the semi finals of the National Gallop and National Race all checked off before lunch. In the afternoon, the award ceremonies and final races begin, interspersed with entertaining performances from the lady riders and the horseback archers of Lajos Kassai. The grand finale event at the close of this long weekend is the display of the free-running mares, where a majestic team of horses run wild and free around the imperial racecourse.
Whether you’re in it for the equestrian sportsmanship or three days of festival fun, the National Gallop is undoubtedly one of the best cultural events in the city – stay with Corinthia Hotel Budapest and discover why.