Legendary Tallinna Hippodroom closes its gates for good

The Tallinna Hippodroom on its last day of competition, Saturday, December 3, 2022.
The Tallinna Hippodroom on its last day of competition, Saturday, December 3, 2022. Source: ERR

Saturday saw the end of an era for an iconic Tallinn horse-racing venue, which is to close just shy of its 100th birthday, ETV news show "Aktuaalne kaamera" (AK) reports.

The Tallinna Hippodroom, in Pelgulinn, just west of central Tallinn, has hosted horse racing, predominantly harness racing, since the 1920s, starting in the period of the First Estonian Republic.

The site is to be redeveloped as a business quarter which will include the new headquarters both of Swedbank and telecoms firm Elisa, starting next year, AK reported.

However, harness-racing will be able to continue, at a new development earmarked for the village of Tuula, between Keila and Ääsmäe and about 30km outside the capital.

The Tallinna Hippodroom on its last day of competition, Saturday, December 3, 2022. Source: ERR

While the few hundred people attending Saturday's finale was down on the many thousands drawn to the Hippodroom in its heyday, it was still enough for a send off which included veterans of the circuit.

One, Tiido Ehatamm, has been attending the races since 1953.

"I myself have been a rider at the racetrack, so for this reason I've had a lifetime of interest here," Tiido told AK.

Of his former riding career, this started: "In 1954 - one year after Stalin's death. I think I'm the oldest rider and the oldest player here now," he went on.

The Tallinna Hippodroom during former times. Source: ERR

Helju, 83, has been working at the trackside betting office for around 35 years or more, she told AK, adding that she hopes to continue this at the new venue.

She first got the job: "Through an acquaintance. They said it was needed, so I cam for few days of training, a couple of times, and stayed ever since."

"There were a lot of people coming during the Soviet era; at that time,t here was a constantly long line, and about seven or eight of us at the cash registers at once.

The relatively recent Covid pandemic had seen a falling away in crowds, however, and the numbers have not recovered since then, she said.

Race announcer Inge Gate will be a familiar voice to all racegoers for the past 45 years she has been working there.

Gate is also a former competitor. "I had such a nice mare once, called Bemoll, who was a very strong character, who wouldn't let herself get overtaken. She brought me 87 first places in just one year," Gate said.

The last day of competition at the Hippodroom also brought out Heino Jürgens, former racetrack manager, who started going to the venue when he was just nine, though had been away for the past 20 years.

He said: "It's such a blissful feeling that the Hippodrome is still going. [The move] is a pity, yes. The new venue might perhaps be better, but the old memories will still be retained in my soul."

Some attendees had picked the Hippodroom's final day as their first racing experience, and in some cases were surprised that betting was in cash-only, AK reported.

The Hippodroom was also the main venue for Estonian cricket for many years, at one point visited by no less a figure than the late Shane Warne, and his then partner, Liz Hurley, several years ago. Cricket is now played at a purpose-built venue at Tiskre, just outside the city.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte, Marko Tooming

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