One of the largest and most beautiful horseracing tracks in the world, Warsaw’s Slużewiec celebrates its 80th first racetrack anniversary
Eighty years ago, Warsaw’s Służewicz Racetrack hosted its first race.
Opened shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War, the excitement surrounding the new complex reflected the horse racing’s popularity in interwar Poland.
Located in southern Warsaw, the 150h plot of land was purchased in 1926 by a Polish horse-breeding association, which had been looking for a new place to build a racetrack.
Although horseracing had already been popular in Warsaw in the 19th Century, by the 1930s it was clear that the existing facilities, on Pola Mokotowskie, were not longer suitable.
The racetrack lacked training tracks and the stands and stables were in need up an update. What’s more, the racetrack was occupying valuable land in the city centre, the Kurier Codzienny newspaper noted in 1937.
Although other parts of Warsaw were considered, Służewiec was ultimately chosen – in part for its location. The city’s population followed the construction process with excitement, from architectural plan to completion.
Chiefly designed by Polish architect Zygmunt Plater-Zyberk, the racetrack drew on two styles that were popular in Poland in the 1930s: functionalism and the smooth lines of ocean liners. Before starting work on it, Plater-Zyberk visited the best racetracks in Europe to learn from their experience and see the latest technical solutions.
The site featured a main racetrack of 2300 m and another one for training. There were going to be three stands: the “Members’” one, for VIPs, the main one with space for 5400 people sitting or standing, and the largest, which was designed to fit 7000 people standing up, but never completed.
In addition to the racetrack itself, the complex in Służewiec was a real “racing town” within the city of Warsaw, decorated with greenery. There was housing for staff, stables for over 800 horses and warehouses, including one that could store 550 tonnes of grain. 12,000 cubic metres of concrete and 1000 tonnes of iron were used in the project, according to the main architect.
The first race was held on 3 June 1939 and won by a stallion called Felsztyn.
However, the buzz of the new racetrack was soon overshadowed by historical events. The last race before the outbreak of the Second World War on 31 August 1939.
Although large parts of Warsaw were destroyed during the war, the racing complex in Służewiec survived in relatively good shape. Racing resumed there after the war in 1946.