Thu | Dec 12, 2019

Mark Wignall | How sound are Dr Wright’s criticisms?

Published:Sunday | December 1, 2019 | 6:47 AM

I cannot recall ever meeting sports medicine specialist Dr Paul Wright, but if I did, I am certain that I would conclude quite early that he is a likeable man. Of course, if we moved to any discussions, I would carefully avoid sports medicine and my almost total ignorance of the subject.

Dr Wright is also an expert in horse racing, and again, he eclipses me because I have been to Caymanas Park only once, in 1976, and I am still waiting for the horse I placed a bet on to finish the race. So it is easy for me to admit that I am a tyro on horse racing but, among other things, I claim some amount of competence on rational thinking.

In The Gleaner of Tuesday, November 19, 2019, Wright penned a piece titled ‘Drop the egos, save our racing’. I’m not sure if it is the perceived likeable Paul Wright who showed up to write that article, but it was basically a harsh criticism of Supreme Ventures Racing and Entertainment Limited (SVREL), the entity that bought Caymanas Park almost three years ago, in 2017.

Now I happen to like Supreme Ventures. Any company that can so capture the almost total attention of Jamaicans from all walks of life day in, day out because of the products it sells must merit either like or dislike. Many do-gooders dislike the very thought of spending money on gambling. I do not gamble. I chose to like the company.

Dr Wright begins his Gleaner column with, “ The celebration of the achievements of jockeys, trainers, owners, and horses that highlighted what was arguably the most exciting weekend in the history of Jamaican racing is in danger of being upended by the exposure of what can only be described as subhuman conditions at the only racetrack in the country, Caymanas Park.

This introductory broadside of ‘subhuman conditions’ is shocking and should be classified as devastating to SVREL if somewhere in Wright’s column, details about specific areas had been highlighted. The closest Wright came to that was further in the column when he wrote, “ …Thus, priorities are shifted frequently in this mad rush to make a positive return on their investment. This leaves critical areas of a successful industry neglected. If this neglect goes on for too long while the neglected see cash being pumped into areas other than their own, then the resulting exposé of vermin in horse stalls and subhuman conditions for the safety and comfort of the grooms will inevitably follow.”

Dr Wright must know that to repeat a criticism in a column like this does not equate to fleshing out the criticism. Which “resulting exposé of vermin in horse stalls” and neglect of grooms is he speaking of?

When Dr Wright spoke of “…the most exciting weekend in the history of Jamaican racing being in danger of being upended …”, he conveniently forgot to mention that he was speaking of the Diamond Mile, held a few weeks ago, the largest raceday in the Caribbean, where sales were in the region of $100 million.

HOPE IT’S NOT SOUR GRAPES, DR WRIGHT

Speaking on a radio programme after his column was published, Dr Wright averred that SVREL is “losing money hand over fist”. He also said that there were not enough horses and not enough people betting.

At one stage of the discussion, where he laid out his special expertise of the horse racing industry, he harked back to the time when SVREL won the bid during the time of government divestment, saying, “I was involved in one of the bids.”

Now I am certain that even if I am entitled to draw an early conclusion that Dr Wright may be a likeable man, I am also free to draw the conclusion that he is an honourable man. But Dr Wright must know that he, as a member of a team that lost the bid to SVREL, should have been less eager to criticise the organisation, especially as the details he brought were scattershot and seemingly immersed in the aftertaste of sour grapes.

CAYMANAS WAS RAMSHACKLE BEFORE SVREL

It was public knowledge that the racing product at Caymanas Park was in a state of disrepair in the years leading up to the government’s divestment. At the time SVREL took over, there was no water at Caymanas.

According to SVREL (Dr Wright must be aware of this), Supreme Ventures’ present investment in Caymanas Track Limited now stands at $2.2 billion. Which part of the Jamaican industry is this hurting, Dr Wright?

The company commissioned a new well to ensure that the compound, the horses, and the general operations were ticking and taking off. According to SVREL, starting this year, 35 new stables will be built and others refurbished.

To be fair to Dr Wright, in his radio interview, he stated that SVREL has been, “…spending a lot of money on the facilities, improving watering, just how the place looks”.

Is it likely that such a company “spending a lot of money on the facilities” would employ such stupid business sense and shortchange in the areas hinted at by Dr Wright, such as, “…vermin in horse stalls and subhuman conditions for the safety and comfort of the grooms”?

Seems quite foolish to me. Does this match up with logic, Dr Wright?

BUSINESS MAKES MONEY OR PERISHES

In his Gleaner column, Dr Wright stated, with all the expertise at his disposal, “ After divestment, a few men with a long history of Jamaican racing knowledge tried to explain to the new owners that profitability just could not be possible for the first three to five years of operation.

One assumes that Wright was among those men who volunteered the invaluable information.

He continues. “ At first, it appeared that this concept of continued investment BEFORE profitability was understood, but after a major shake-up at the top, it appears to some racing minds that profitability NOW was the main aim.”

In other words, this is Dr Wright saying to SVREL that it is an affront for a business to launch a company, make significant investments, begin operations, improve as one goes along, and, God forbid, make money. Who invented this business model, Dr Wright? The communists of old Soviet Russia?

In Dr Wright failing to state in his column that he was involved in one of the losing bids, context escapes the criticism he makes. Would he deny that SVREL has built a state-of-the-art data centre for the park and has implemented HD-quality broadcast comparable to anywhere in the world? Dr Wright’s criticisms just do not match up to the expansion of the facilities and the increase in quality of the horse racing product presently at Caymanas Park.

Since the time of the divestment, Caymanas Park has moved its off-track betting from 68 to 120 locations islandwide. What about mobile betting? There is now a mobile betting platform, MBET, that provides punters with betting options basically at their fingertips.

Again, let me confess that I am no expert on the horse racing product in Jamaica. If Dr Wright has discovered well-hidden filth and vermin in the stables and in the other facilities occupied by grooms and trainers, maybe we need to hear from those very people.

Where SVREL states that it has reinstated the much-missed English racing and added Irish racing at a J$10 bet minimum, that just does not match up to the picture being painted through the expert eyes and words of Dr Wright.

It just doesn’t match the park’s possession of a top-class photo-finish camera system similar to that used at the Olympics, the Kentucky Derby, and the Breeder’s Cup.

Or maybe Dr Wright is still stuck in a time and a sad event for him in 2017.

- Mark Wignall is a political- and public-affairs analyst. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and mawigsr@gmail.com.