Racing can be saved
As 2014 winds down and sport fans look forward to 2015, it is sensible to reflect on the past year and to look to the next year with a view to making suggestions that we-the-people-that-matter (fans) believe will improve the sport.
My sport is the sport of kings: horse racing. In Jamaica, this sport is DYING. The promoting company is losing money like a drunken sailor on shore leave. The owners of the athletes/animals are leaving, either selling or giving away, or worse, abandoning their horses. Those owners who own horses of worth, and who have the sport of kings embedded in their DNA, simply export their charges to other jurisdictions where there is the opportunity to (a) earn more purse money and (b) collect purse money earned BEFORE 60 days have passed! The names: Bruceontheloose, Bigmanintown, and Princess Popstar readily come to mind.
Our best jockeys are leaving for other jurisdictions where they are (a) paid to exercise horses in the mornings (b) paid a 'retainer fee' when contracted by a trainer to ride his/her horses whether the horse has a winning chance or not!
In Jamaica, if a jockey is 'retained' by a trainer, he is NOT paid a retainer fee, but if he opts to ride a horse for another trainer that has a winning chance, instead of the horse entered by his trainer that has not a ghost of a chance, that jockey is immediately 'fired' and will find that rides from that stable coincidentally 'dry up'. (c) In other jurisdictions, jockeys are paid their riding fee or a percentage of a winning purse in 10 to 14 days.
In Jamaica, jockeys have to wait sometimes 60 days before receiving payment. (d) In other jurisdictions, the promoting company provides fully equipped ambulances to follow the racing horses (at a distance) in order to be on hand immediately after a fall or accident. In Jamaica, jockeys who fall in a race are lifted from the track to the waiting ambulance by a willing crew, which does not have a stretcher in the ambulance!
(e) In other jurisdictions, jockeys who are injured during a race or while exercising a horse on the racetrack are covered by insurance and/or have their medical bills covered by a caring promoting company via an injured-jockeys fund or some such financial arrangement.
In Jamaica, if an injured jockey requires surgery and he cannot pay upfront, he MUST have a benefactor/sponsor or else he will NOT have surgery, even if he is in a public 'no-fee' hospital. He/she might not have to pay for accommodation or surgery, but surgical implants are expensive and if not provided by the jockey ... no surgery!
Breeders are leaving the game or cutting back on the production of horses to replenish stock. It costs approximately $600,000 to bring a horse to the annual yearling sale in November each year. A careful perusal of the report from the annual sale in 2014 will reveal that more than half of the horses entered in the sale were either bought back by the breeder or sold for less than $600,000. A LOSS!
saving the sport
So the sport IS dying. Can it be saved? Yes!
First, the track MUST be divested. The promoters MUST understand the sport and have the business acumen to run a profitable company. It CAN be done. The Danny Melville board of blessed memory did it. But that group was the ONLY Board to consistently record a profit. Governments have no business handing the promoting company to political supporters and losing election candidates, who consistently and persistently beg a cash-strapped administration for a bail-out as they are unable to run a company that is able to pay its bills!
The tried and proven 'Form-A-Committee' when unable to make a potentially unpopular commercial decision has not and will not work! The track MUST be divested. The promise by the finance minister of "DIVESTMENT BY YEAR END" is now unmasked for what it is.
Second, the claiming system has not worked and MUST be scrapped. Handicapping of all races must be the norm, with optional claiming being available for owners who wish to part with their horses. The plan to send the CEO to Australia to allegedly "study handicapping" must be exposed for the joke that it really is. If help is needed re setting up a handicapping system, why not send a handicapper?
Third, the present method of calculating payouts to winning tickets bought by punters (the life blood of the sport) has to change. You cannot invite the public to arguably the biggest race day of the calendar and arrange the calculation of winning payouts so that the dividends on the first three horses past the post is $50 win $50 place for first place, $50 place for second, and $50 place for third when the stake is $50!
That, I submit, will NOT win friends and influence newcomers to the track to return! Further, by adjusting the percentage take-out by the promoting company from the betting dollar from 36 per cent to nine per cent (giving the winning bettor 91 cents in the dollar instead of the present 64 cents), horses that now display odds of 1:4 on the tote board, therefore attracting no bet from a discerning punter, will now revert to 4:5, or even money, attracting more bets!
Fourth, the purses must be adjusted to encourage the owners of the best horses to STAY and support the local product. I am advised that Bruceontheloose left Jamaica to race in Trinidad, a sister island with far fewer race days than Jamaica, and until his untimely demise, earned the equivalent of J$65 million. Sprint sensation Saint Cecelia stayed in Jamaica and earned J$22 million! Trinidad attracts the best horses; Jamaica exports the best horses.
Last, the frequent occurrence of 'technical difficulties', which cause innumerable delays day after day, CAN be rectified by simply demanding that staff reach to work on time and by insisting that computers and other technical equipment are checked by 8 a.m. on a race day instead of when needed, only to hear of a frantic call: "Where is the technician?"
Racing can be saved. Is there the political will to do the right thing? Time will tell.