Dr Paul Wright: Swift decision needed to fix horse racing industry
Last week, the best kept secret in horse racing in Jamaica was officially exposed.
There was a statement from the Government that Supreme Ventures was now the preferred bidder in the much ballyhooed divestment of Caymanas Park, the only racetrack in the island.
Although everybody at the track knew that Supreme Ventures had won months before, the comments from the vice president of the trainers' association and the president of the Jamaica Racehorse Owners Association (JROA) reflected sentiments at the track that racing NEEDED divestment.
Some of the older (and wiser?) fans and punters at the track were very wary of the announcement, however, as they remembered that there were two previous 'preferred bidders' in the planned divestment of racing out of the hands of Government and into the hands of private individuals (or companies) with the knowledge and the money that is so vital in the successful promotion of racing, as the Danny Melville-led Board showed some year s ago.
Both bids came to nought. So after the collective sigh of relief from the representatives of the stakeholders in racing, came the return to reality by statements from Paul Hoo, a representative of Supreme Ventures and from lawyers representing the present champion jockey at the track, Shane Ellis.
First, Mr Hoo reminded all of us in racing that the title 'preferred bidder' only means that negotiations for the divestment will now begin in earnest and the lawyers for Mr Ellis obtained an injunction in the courts that restrained the planned divestment until the promoting company, Caymanas Track Limited (CTL), settled a lawsuit brought by Mr Ellis against the CEO of the track, who made comments (deemed derogatory by Mr Ellis and his lawyers). Those comments were made after Mr Ellis fell from a horse during a race some years ago.
So for at least the next 9-12 months the status quo at the track remains - no Board in place and management that has become decidedly worse after the 'preferred bidder' official statement.
For example, 'technical difficulties' is now the official response to queries about race day incidents that reek of incompetence.
Last Saturday, a race was held up for at least 15 minutes because of 'technical difficulties' at the starting gate. It turned out that the gates "malfunctioned" because of a "lack of power". This was quickly remedied by the frantic call for an electrician - obviously transported in a van racing from the starting gate to the grandstand area over and over again - to correct a problem that scheduled and regular maintenance checks could have prevented.
The first race, on more than one occasion, has been delayed by "technical difficulties" when investigations revealed that a crucial member of the management team was "late" coming to work.
Betting terminals at Off Track betting stations are turned on up to one hour late on race days because of "technical difficulties", which on investigation revealed that crucial operatives "came to work late".
Horses are withdrawn from races because of lameness or illness the day before racing are not declared as late non-starters until a few minutes before the scheduled start of the race, playing havoc with the important exotic wagers of punters whose selection is now transferred to the 'on time favourite', which in some case have very little or no chance of winning and therefore depriving the knowledgeable punter from choosing another horse with a more realistic winning chance.
I could go on and on. Racing cannot continue like this.
The Chinese ambassador has praised the present Prime Minister, Andrew Holness, for his penchant for making "quick decisions".
Racing people are now calling for a swift decision by his Government to try to correct the present promotion of racing.