Gordon Robinson | Living legend Wayne DaCosta
Already established as the greatest Jamaican trainer to saddle a thoroughbred, Wayne Anthony DaCosta became a living legend on November 11 by winning the only Grade 1 race that eluded him over the years, namely, the Burger King Superstakes.
On a warm summer's evening, on a train bound for nowhere,
I met up with a gambler;
we were both too tired to sleep.
So we took turns a-starin' out the window at the darkness.
'Til boredom overtook us and he began to speak
He said, "Son, I've made a life out of readin' people's faces;
knowin' what the cards were by the way they held their eyes.
So if you don't mind me sayin' I can see you're out of aces.
For a taste of your whiskey,
I'll give you some advice"
On June 12, 2009, in an article commemorating his induction into racing's Hall of Fame, The Terrible Tout wrote about Wayne:
"What separates this dedicated professional from the rest ... is his day-to-day relentless pursuit of winners with a view always to maximising returns for his owners ... .
"It's his unparalleled attention to the business of racing and his unequalled business acumen that place him head and shoulders above his colleagues ... . He holds the record for the most number of wins posted in a single season. He has trained five winners in a raceday ... and has the remarkable record of saddling four winners in a day on no fewer than an incredible 11 times!"
Since that article appeared on Touty's blog, those statistics mushroomed. He leads Jamaican trainers in stakes won and winners saddled. He's won an awesome 16 Trainers' Championships.
So I handed him my bottle and he drank down my last swallow.
Then he bummed a cigarette and asked me for a light.
And the night got deathly quiet and his face lost all expression
He said, "If you're gonna play the game, boy,
you gotta learn to play it right.
"You've got to know when to hold 'em; know when to fold 'em.
Know when to walk away and know when to run.
You never count your money when you're sittin' at the table.
There'll be time enough for counting when the dealin's done!
GREW UP POOR
It wasn't always so. Wayne was born in a poor neighbourhood (Ostend Avenue) in the Bournemouth area but spent most of his childhood at Sandhurst Crescent. He attended DeSouza's Junior Boys' School, led by legendary educator Harvey Claude DeSouza (who he believes was his most important early influence), and then Campion College.
The one constant in his young life was horses. At an early age, he bought a pony and would ride anywhere with friends, but especially at King's House, with Sir Clifford Campbell's permission.
Even before I met Wayne and began a lifelong friendship, he, while working in The Gleaner's Stores Department, was struggling to make his way in racing as assistant trainer to friend and mentor Philip Feanny and as owner of Windsor (purchased for J$1,500 with his Gleaner redundancy payment), who won within a week. He took out his trainer's permit in 1977, and, for many years, toiled as a 'small trainer' under a handicapping system that victimised young trainers without funds or contacts.
More from The Terrible Tout's 2009 piece: "He soon married Elizabeth McCulloch ... . It was the best decision of his life. Liz became the solid rock around which his professional and personal life would flourish; the anchor to keep him steady in rough seas; the provider of the type of unconditional love that assures success; and the lifetime companion of such sincerity and devotion that she's the envy of her generation."
He has been an inspiration (that naughty word again) to me in my work. I watched his meticulous approach to conditioning horses. I marvelled watching Wayne enter each horse's stall and examine the horse (especially hooves/joints) himself, not depending on any groom's report.
In 1984, a super-filly named Thornbird won him his first Derby; helped to secure his first Trainers' Championship despite inadequate stall space; and produced Jamaica's best finish in the Caribbean Classic. In 1993, a claiming system emphasising placement rather than just conditioning and assignment of significantly more stalls saw Wayne taking off.
The Gambler, written by Don Schlitz, was a monster hit for country singer Kenny Rogers and led to a series of hit movies. The song could've been inspired by Wayne, whose exploits at the bookies in his early years and around the poker table were, and are, peerless.
Peace and love.
- Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to email@example.com.