My best Jamaica Derby Day
Last Saturday's running of the 95th Jamaica Derby, sponsored by Cal's Manufacturing Limited, was the best derby day that I have witnessed since my first in 1968.
Carlton Watson, the owner of Cal's Manufacturing Limited, pulled out all the stops in making this day the special day it is supposed to be for all the stakeholders of racing, punters, and sports-loving people. The day had something for everyone. The winners of every race received trophies; there was an incentive for jockeys (a Jockey's Challenge, where points were awarded for the first 10 finishers in every race); increased purse, where owners, trainers, jockeys, and grooms received more money for finishing in the top-six places in the Derby, than ever before in the history of the race; giveaways of products from the vast product line of Cal's Manufacturing; and entertainment throughout the day for visitors and punters who came to Caymanas Park.
The result of this expensive and well-thought-out promotion: a full house, including many who had "left racing", and a betting turnover at the pari-mutuel of more than $50 million - a Derby Day record! Every attendee had fun. Not even the fact of ice "running out" in the latter stages of the race day could dampen spirits.
As a visionary who understands exactly what racing needs to be revived, Carlton Watson arranged a special on-track presentation to two Jamaicans whose exploits in racing were featured in the Guinness Book of Records: Winston Griffiths, with 11 derby victories; and Phillip Feanny, with 10 derby victories.
The unannounced and "last minute" attempt at "ambush marketing" by those who should know better, hopefully, will not dampen Mr Watson's determination to improve the image of racing. The divestment of the race track from a cash-strapped government that cannot afford to pay a living wage to its employees, to those with cash, expertise, and the hard realisation that idiotic plans and ideas will result in the loss of personal resources, with no possibility of billing "Di Government," racing can be saved! Just remove its control from the hands of party faithfuls and losing candidates, and place it in the hands of racing people with cash and proven expertise. Paul Hoo and Carlton Watson, are you listening to the cry of the people?
Congratulations are in order for the victors of this prestigious race. The aptly and prophetically named 'Seeking My Dream', a three-year-old chestnut colt by the stallion Seeking the Glory out of a previous Derby winner Alsafra, won the race in a decisive manner, going away from rivals in the last furlong to win unchallenged.
As the field of 15 runners entered the last two furlongs of the race, the two leaders were Ali Baba, the favourite, and the second favourite Seeking My Dream, two colts whose mothers, Ahwofah and Alsafra had met in the Derby in 2008. Alsafra won, from a fading Awhofah, giving knowledgeable punters the hint that maybe, the favourite Ali Baba would not genuinely get the taxing distance of 12 furlongs, unlike the blood line of Seeking my Dream, whose mother won!
The trainer of the winner also trained the favourite and second-place finisher, and for good measure, also trained the sixth-place finisher, Poker Star, who was the leader three furlongs from home. Wayne DaCosta has been the champion trainer for year after year after year. His ability to assist owners in making successful purchases of young horses that go on to financially satisfying careers is now the stuff of legends, and from the crop of youngsters seen in the mornings at exercise, his reign will continue until he says "Come, Jason (his son, who now trains successfully in Florida). It's your time".
The jockey of the winning horse, Omar 'Hot' Walker, (who gave him that moniker?) is a four-time champion jockey who recently returned from a stint in Canada, where his immense riding skills seemed to have improved. The reassociation of the Walker-DaCosta combination in big races only came about because the usual rider of Seeking my Dream, Shane Ellis, abandoned the colt after he was beaten by none other than Ali Baba in the first leg of the local Triple Crown, the 2000 Guineas.
The win by Walker on the second favourite has left racing aficionados wondering if this could be the start of another ultra successful DaCosta-Walker partnership. Derrick Smith, the owner of the winner, has been trying to win this prestigious race for the past 39 years. As a great unknown philosopher once said: "Some days you are the dog; some days you are the hydrant". Smith, long-time parliamentarian and race horse owner, was the proverbial dog on Saturday last.
As he wiped tears of joy from his eyes and with his wife and sons at his side, Smith savoured the moment. As he recounted the moment of his acquisition of this colt and the decision to name this horse Seeking My Dream in one more quest to be the best, the message to all his fellow owners (and prospective owners) was: NEVER GIVE UP! What a day!