Paul Wright | The moneymaking machine
Jeffery Mordecai is the son of the first commissioner of the Jamaica Racing Commission. He is also a guru when it comes to constitutional law. Last Thursday, he was the guest speaker at the graduation of the new batch of jockeys from the commission's Jockey School. His speech began in the same vein as most speeches at the graduation of any group of students, who now move from the classroom to the real world, where they are expected to be the best that they can be as they strive to earn a living for their family and themselves.
Mr Mordecai congratulated them, first on their decision to choose race-riding as a profession; secondly, to successfully complete the prescribed course with its many difficulties and challenges; and thirdly, explaining to the graduates that their new career could be termed a "money-making machine". However, if they do not understand and respect the rules and regulations of the local regulatory body, the Jamaica Racing Commission (JRC), or accept money from someone to "do wrong," then all of the sweat and sacrifice that went into their career choice would come to naught.
The last part of his speech to the graduates focused on the problems and perceived longevity of the present state of racing in Jamaica. He pointed out that in 1997, the Government of Jamaica divested the Industry to a private company, Supreme Ventures Racing and Entertainment Limited (SVREL), as it could no longer continue to subsidise racing locally by periodic injections of cash. SVREL (and their shareholders) cannot themselves be expected to subsidise racing. The sport has either to become profitable or die. Jeffery Mordecai then, rightly, encouraged ALL the stakeholders of racing to come together, consult, and SACRIFICE for the common goal of saving racing by implementing changes. He ended his entreaty to the group with these words: "If there is no widely agreed and consistently implemented plan to ensure profitability, Jamaican horseracing WILL ultimately fail and everybody will get 100 percent of 0."
In my opinion, this speech marks the first time that a member of the fraternity has come out and forcefully brought to light and invited public debate on the painful truth about the present state of the industry. It is losing money ... daily! There is no doubt among any member of the racing stakeholders about what is needed to "save" the sport: there must be more horses. The present state of the breeding farms and the number of racing progeny produced year in year out cannot keep the sport viable.
There must be an influx of "new" bettors. The sport is financed by the "handle" - the money bet on the races every race day. Sponsors and fees earned by charging profes-sionals to be IN the sport, as well as entry fees to the track, cannot offset the cost of putting on the "show" and paying purses.
The regulars, those that bet every race-day, MUST be recognised for their valuable contribution, and any change contemplated should be "bettor friendly" in order to be successful. There are plans discussed and agreed to provide the necessary cash to import more horses. The plans have not yet been implemented because of a perceived slowness in achieving the necessary changes in taxes levied on those owners brave enough to import thoroughbreds to Jamaica. The change that occurred recently in purchasing a bet using the new betting machines at the track and off-track stations is proving to be counter-productive as the punter who purchases multiple bets on any one race gets one ticket per bet when previously multiple bets (quinellas, exactas, trifectas, and superfectas), could be placed on one single piece of paper. Now, those four bets require four different pieces of paper. But that is not all. When and if a bet is successful, presenting the bet to the mutual clerk requires four or five "sweeps" of the bet under the red light of the new betting machine before the sum won is displayed on the machine. Betting on horses has now become tedious and a chore.
After nearly two years at the helm, there is yet to be seen a consistent and definite attempt to invite newcomers to the sport, and if and when they come, to make their experience so exciting that a return to the track is a must. Inviting newcomers to the track and having food run out before the day's racing is completed is a definite turn-off.
As Jeffery Mordecai spoke, he listed the following groups that must act as one if racing is to be saved. These groups are the promoter, the regulator, the jockeys, the trainers, the grooms, the owners, private-sector sponsors, media, and most importantly, THE PUBLIC.
There are very few persons at the helm of different organisations that don't know how to talk a good plan. There are a minute number of persons at the helm of different organisations that IMPLEMENT the good plan that they espouse.
As Jeffery Mordecai said, "If there is no widely agreed and consistently implemented plan to ensure profitability, Jamaican horseracing will ultimately fail." Action, not a bag-a mouth, is urgent and vital. The sport of horseracing in Jamaica is in trouble.
- Dr Paul Wright is a noted sports medicine specialist and media personality. For feedback, email: firstname.lastname@example.org