On the Maltese islands, horse racing can be traced back to the Knights of Saint John, especially under the passionate Grand Masters De Verdalle (16th century) and De Lascaris-Castellar (17th century). They loved their sport so much that specific laws were passed to prohibit interference with the races.
The races are not limited to the tracks. During some key holidays of the year, races take place in the streets of cities and villages. Among the most famous of these are the one on 29 June (a holiday) on the occasion of the feast of St Peter and St Paul (also called l-Imnarja).
This feast (L-Imnarja) is one of the oldest feasts celebrated in Malta. The Feast commemorates two important Saints in Maltese religious lore, St. Peter and St. Paul. The word luminarja is derived from the Latin word Luminare – to light up. This was the way people manifested their joy in recognition of a particular feast, such lighting being offered by burning bonfires and candles. This feast has somewhat moved away from the traditional village ‘festa’ style and has developed a different type of merriment which is held in Buskett Garden on the eve of June 29 the day of the feast. This is a small tree grove situated some one kilometre away from Rabat. The liturgical services are held in the Mdina Cathedral. During the late afternoon hours, numerous horse and donkey races are held in a country lane situated just below and at some distance from Mdina. The contenders vie for the Palju (a traditional banner that is presented as a trophy to the winners of various categories of races) which in olden times used to be presented to the winners by non other than the Grand Master of the Order.