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The Incredible History of Saigon’s Racetracks

Although it closed 3 years ago, for the city’s older citizens, District 11’s Phu Tho Horse Racing Ground represents a bygone era of racing and gambling in Saigon. While an important but fading cultural icon in its own right, some of its predecessors represent even greater goldmines of forgotten history.

Saigon’s original horse racing track was built by the French (surprise!) at a military barracks, located at the crossroads of Verdun and Le Grand de la Liraye (now CMT8 and Dien Bien Phu in District 3) where, every weekend, the French cavalry practiced their formations.

At the beginning of the 20th century, Jean Duclos, a French trader, noticed the addictive and passionate gambling interests of the city’s residents. Seeing a great business opportunity, he brought 8 Arabian horses from Hanoi (where horse racing had already been established) to Saigon and opened a racetrack in Phu Tho Hoa (a neighborhood of Cho Lon where many wealthy Chinese resided).

Duclos’s racing business exploded, hosting 200 races its first 6 months of operation, quickly becoming a favorite spot for millionaires and regular citizens alike to win (but more likely lose) small fortunes.

This was also the site of aviation pioneer, Charles Van Den Born’s, 1910 flight, the first ever in Asia.

On December 15, 1910, more than 15,000 people watched Born's flight.

In 1932, another French trader, Monpezat, built an even larger, 444,440m2 racing ground in Phu Tho (today’s District 11) which stands were always packed with turfistes – a French term for gamblers.

The track, which also held dog races, operated until the Tet Offensive where it was the site of a major battle between the Viet Cong and ARVN.

Though it was refurbished and reopened in 1989 by a Chinese trader, it was closed by decision of the HCMC People’s Committee in 2011.

While Saigon’s horse racing tracks are now all but forgotten, they hold a special place in the city’s history.

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