My column 'Horse racing at a dead end' (Sunday Gleaner, December 14, 2014) drew varied responses from persons associated with local racing, from as high as former heads of regulatory bodies, as well as former and sitting presidents of owners and breeders groups, right down to a former punter who now resides in Canada.
Gordon Robinson, 'The Terrible Tout', a former chairman of the Betting, Gaming & Lotteries Commission (BGLC), pointed to many other ills affecting local racing, which he gave precedence over addressing the classification of horses at Caymanas Park - really a chicken-or-egg argument, but very relevant.
However, the response that directly addressed the matter of the existing system of classifying horses at Caymanas Park came from Howard Hamilton, owner, breeder, twice chairman of the promoting company at Caymanas Park and sitting president of the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association.
Hamilton's response read: "Excellent article. We fear the handicapping system because of the incompetence of those involved. Look at the farce of the Gold Cup yesterday. Potcheen wins the Sprint with 57k and comes into this race against the same horses with 50.5k. Last year, St Cecelia won the Sprint with 55k and came into this race with 57k, the maximum allowed. We need professionals to run racing, and unfortunately they are few and far between in Jamaica."
So, Hamilton 'fears' the handicapping system, not because it's flawed and iniquitous as conditions and claiming have proven to be. He, instead, fears handicapping "because of the incompetence of those involved".
He expounded by stating the case of SAINT CECELIA having had to carry 57.0 kilos in the 2012 Gold Cup (not last year's, as he stated) after winning that year's Sprint with 55.0. He pointed to POTCHEEN, who was assigned a featherweight 50.5 in this year's Gold Cup, following victory in the Sprint with 57.0.
This is certainly not in defence of POTCHEEN being allotted 50.5 kilos.
However, Hamilton might have forgotten that SAINT CECELIA, on Gold Cup day, December 8, 2012, was unbeaten in her 10 previous starts - all grade-one races, against the best horses in the land, including the 2011 Gold Cup!
From June 2011, up to Gold Cup day, December 2012, she had carried 57.0 kilos against MARK MY WORD, MISMYRTLEBOYRICHIE, NOON IT IS, BLAST THEM AWAY, COMMANDING CHIEF and DANCE SO SWEET, beating them in 10 consecutive races. On Gold Cup day 2012, she beat them all again with 57.0 kilos.
These performances handed SAINT CECELIA back-to-back Horse of the Year honours, 2011 and 2012.
Therefore, comparing her to POTCHEEN is clearly cheese to chalk. POTCHEEN's Sprint win this year was only his third grade-one victory in 34 career starts.
It should also be pointed out that the only reason why SAINT CECELIA had carried 55.0 kilos in the Sprint, and not 57.0, was due to a two-kilo sex allowance, as required in the 'conditions' of invitational races, disregarding her status as the top-rated horse in the country, which handicapping would have certainly corrected.
So, sorry, Howard, you were off the mark with that comparison. However, you are, indeed correct, that POTCHEEN should not have been allotted 50.5 kilos after winning the Sprint with 57.0. He should have been heavier.
Initially, there was a school of thought that, for the Gold Cup, CTL's handicappers might have used the reasoning that horses' performances in invitational Superstakes Day races such as the Sprint, Mile and Superstakes itself were not to be used in handicapping subsequent races.
This reasoning is hinged on the basis that Superstakes Day invitational races are open to horses from the region, Barbados, and Trinidad and Tobago, and having no way of gauging the true ability of these entrants, set weights were allotted in a weight-for-age condition system (here we go again) with sex allowances attached.
This explains many a pundit's initial thought that POTCHEEN's win in the Sprint, as well as PETE'SWILDONE victory in the Mile, was deliberately overlooked in the allotment of weight for the Gold Cup, explaining 50.5 and 50.0 kilos, respectively, for the stablemates.
Alas, checks with CTL's racing office two Thursdays ago revealed that all the invitational races on Superstakes Day, a month prior to the Gold Cup, were, indeed, taken into consideration by its handicapping team - a mind-boggling revelation if there was ever one, considering how POTCHEEN won the Sprint with 57.0 kilos and PETE'SWILDONE took the Mile with 55.0.
Well, Howard, you are right, "We need professionals to run racing and unfortunately they are few and far between in Jamaica."
However, that does not mean the expertise does not exist; it is simply that the wrong persons are in charge of the affairs of local racing at almost every step of the way.