Sun | Aug 9, 2020

Gordon Robinson | ‘Yu, yu, yu gamble racehorse?’ (Part Deux)

Published:Tuesday | November 5, 2019 | 12:00 AM

As last week’s column was published, I received an irate call from Gene Autry: “You idiot! Don’t you remember Digger was LEFT-handed?” Oops.

We also remembered acting as Digger’s wingmen trying to set him up with a young lady. As he was introduced, he led with a stammered, “Yu, yu, yu gamble racehorse?” followed by his killer line, “Oo, oo, oo yu like fi tomorrow?” She fled faster than Merlene could.

I’ve been channelling Digger’s imaginary critique of Ainsley ‘Jimmie’ Walters’ two-part gripe ‘Caymanas running lame’.

Jimmie tries to explain handicapping systems by an analogy with British professional football (BPA), but that’s more analogous to the American claiming system than handicapping. In BPA, teams are promoted/relegated based on pre-written conditions emphasising number of games won, lost or drawn, NOT by a ‘handicapper’ assessing how good their wins/losses were and asking better teams to give away goals when facing ‘lesser’ opponents.


According to Jimmie, USA/Canada claiming racing “came about because the North Americans, not having a reliable and advanced handicapping and rating system as the British, settled on ‘categorising’ horses, instead of classifying their respective abilities based on weight carried in races.”


North America looked at the British system and found it lacking. They deliberately implemented a hands-off policy regarding ‘categorising’ and instead focused on ways to combat corruption, especially in racing’s lower grades. The British, steeped in monarchy and aristocracy, believe in a system allowing a few elitists to decide where your horse runs. Americans prefer democracy and anti-corruption.

Let’s get one fundamental clear. Government’s purpose in permitting and regulating horse racing/betting industries isn’t to appease traditionalists. Like all government policy, it’s to exploit and order citizens’ activities for the greater good. People will gamble. Government intervenes to reduce corruption and increase direct/indirect tax revenues (the two are linked) so national priorities may be funded from citizens’ economic pursuits.

That’s how all governance systems, whether capitalist or socialist, work. Government’s role is to facilitate growth of economic activities and ensure collective benefits from them.

It’s the horse-racing economy, stupid!

Proving he’s clueless about claiming races, Jimmie continued to bellyache in Part II as follows:

“Claiming and condition races can prove competitive for bettors in North America because racetracks, between Canada and US, are graded in terms of quality of purses and outnumber Jamaica’s 100-1.

Connections of horses in North America have the luxury of moving their animals from track to track in search of fair competition under a system of claiming and conditions, which, because of the sheer number and quality of horses in either ¬jurisdiction, works for them...”



Handicappers may have struggled in the early days. The telephone (invented 1849) erased that challenge, yet America hasn’t abandoned claiming. The claiming system has nothing to do with number of tracks; luxury of movement; or “search of fair competition”. Trainers don’t care about ‘fair competition’. They want the best return on investment for their owners.

Full stop!

It’s the horse-racing economy, stupid!

Under British handicapping/rating systems, connections are subject to a handicapper’s whims regarding where their horses can run. Because, like water, humans seek the path of least resistance; connections, with larcenous intent, soon developed ploys to manipulate their charges’ performances to bamboozle handicappers into dropping them in the ratings as prep for gambling coups.

In small countries with one racetrack, these corrupt practices and their adverse effects on marketing and government revenues are magnified. Jamaican punters suffered interminably during the 1980s, as owners and trainers with larceny in their hearts hid horses’ true abilities until they were ready to strike at contrived odds boosted by ‘building the pool’, a corrupt practice facilitated by lazy bookies selling at tote odds.

This rampant corruption was addressed by the claiming system that ensured connections, especially of lower-grade horses where manipulation was the norm, entered races where they were competitive or chanced losing them.

Next: the trilogy’s eye-opening conclusion.

Peace and love!

Gordon Robinson is an attorney-at-law. Email feedback to