WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS: Winners of the Sartai horse race proudly decorate their horses.
VILNIUS - Sartai Lake, near the northeastern Lithuanian small town of Dusetos (900 inhabitants), is famous for annual winter-time horse racing which used to be organized on the frozen lake. Several years ago, due to temperatures around zero and subsequently too thin ice on the lake, the race started to be held in a hippodrome on the shore of the lake. This year’s racing will be held on Feb. 6.
Now there are new findings about Sartai Lake - the organizer of the event, the Lithuanian Agriculture Ministry, says that the races will be held in the hippodrome because of safety reasons. There are some streams in the lake which could make the racing on ice dangerous. The Sventoji River flows through the Sartai, which is one of the biggest of Lithuania’s lakes.
On Feb. 6, Dusetos will become kind of a temporal capital of Lithuania. Tens of thousands of spectators from throughout Lithuania will travel to Dusetos to watch the racing that has more than a century-long history.
It is better to start the journey by car early in the morning because of possible traffic jams. This year’s event is No. 104. The event is always held close to the day of the Catholic holiday of Candlemas, which coincides with Ground-hog day in North America. Some 75 horses from Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia will take part in 11 races competing in the 1,609-meter-long event.
Sartai 2010 will start at 10:00 with a folk fair and folk music near the lake. The opening ceremony will be held at 12:00. The first race is scheduled for 12:45. The award ceremony will be held at 15:45.
In previous years, when Al Gore’s ideas on global warming were still in power, the event’s surroundings were rather muddy. However, now with temperatures around minus 20 Celsius, the scene should be meeting the highest standards of white winter esthetics. There will be some baked meat for those who feel they are getting frozen. There will be plenty of home-made beer for sale. Usually some spectators bring along some stronger alcohol beverages, though it is not very legal to drink them in public.
Algirdas Brazauskas, Lithuania’s former president, used to be a traditional guest at the Sartai races. The Sartai races are associated with Brazauskas for many because of the funny event several years ago. It was in 2001 when Brazauskas and then Agriculture Minister Edvardas Makelis tried to take part in the horse races. However, they collided during the race and both fell on the ground. Today Brazauskas is in the hospital because of cancer treatment and will probably be missed by some of the Sartai horse racing old-timers.