Wed | May 22, 2019

Paul Wright | Let us improve racing!

Published:Tuesday | November 13, 2018 | 12:19 AM
Jockey Oneil Foster rides Meet Justin to victory in the Little Caesars Hot 'N' Ready Run trophy on The Burger King Superstakes Raceday 2018 at Caymanas Park on Saturday, November 10, 2018.

Many years ago, the Government of Jamaica rescued racing when private individuals used the cash collected at Caymanas Park and off-track betting stations to finance personal ambitions instead of improving the product and the lifestyle of the participants. This noble gesture then followed the way of most government-run institutions. It lost money, 'bigly'.

Then Danny Melville was installed as the chairman of Caymanas Track Limited, and he along with a board that believed that the track belonged to them, produced a profit in the operations for the first time at last. That run of a decade plus unfortunately came to an end when Melville became a member of parliament, and after a few years, expressed his disillusionment with politics and resigned from the then ruling party. So, a "miffed" political party, disbanded the board of directors, and as they say, 'racing was never the same again'. The promoting company lost money year after year after year.

As the annual losses piled up, the Government of the day was forced to use public funds to prop up the industry that was supposedly to be the 'sport of kings'. Inevitably, the Government smelled the coffee and decided to divest the promoting company. As usual, that process had hiccup after hiccup, and it wasn't until a little less than two years ago that the promoting company was divested to Supreme Ventures, giving that company a virtual monopoly on the gambling dollar in Jamaica. This move was heralded by all in the industry, because with purse increases and infrastructure improvements in the pipeline, racing in Jamaica was on the move and glory days were coming! Then, eh-eh, reality set in. Making a profit in the promotion of racing needed a number of things to take place.


Unity is key


The first is unity of the stakeholders. Everyone needed to be respected, communicated with, and made to feel as if their opinion mattered. The next is new bettors to increase the handle on the money bet on the product every race day. Another thing needed is more horses, and ultimately more race days. Another is improving conditions at the park for both the stakeholders, patrons and the occasional visitor, who just may like what he or she sees and returns.

After more than $100 million of investment, racing was still losing money, 'hand over fist', and rumours began swirling around that the new promoters wanted to extricate themselves from the agreement with the Government. Payment of purses on time breathed some life into the sport. Weekly bingo to increase revenue failed miserably and the new tote system was turning off bettors, as it took some time for betting machine operators to understand the system. Things just didn't look good. So, after much deliberation, the promoting company Supreme Ventures Racing and Entertainment limited (SVREL), the Betting Gaming and Lotteries Commission (BGLC), the Jamaica Racing Commission (JRC), and the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association (TOBA) got together and planned a new initiative aimed at reviving interest in the sport. The Superstakes weekend was planned and executed.

The weekend began with a pre-sale banquet on the Friday before the Superstakes on Saturday. At the banquet, prospective buyers from overseas were fÍted and plans for the weekend and, indeed the future were outlined by the president of TOBA, Howard Hamilton, and the Chairman of SVREL, Michael Bernard. On Superstakes day, more than $50 million was bet on 10 races and the public was regaled with a race meet to remember.


Stirring duel


The stirring stretch duel of Horse of the Year SHE'S A MANEATER and her three-time conqueror in 2018, WILL IN CHARGE, ending with a thrilling "head bob" defeat of the colt by the filly! Then on Sunday, the annual yearling sale in the car-park of Caymanas Park had 114 horses slated for sale. Eighteen were withdrawn for various reasons prior to the beginning of the sale and the remaining 96 were sold for more than $130 million. There were two horses that fetched over $5 million dollars each; four over $4 million; five, over $3 million;14 over $2 million and 35 yearlings fetched prices of over $1 million dollars.

Prices ranged from $200,000 dollars to the record $5.1 million for lot number 45, a chestnut filly by the stallion Blue Pepsi Lodge out of the Graeme Hall mare, Rumble! Could this be the herald of things to come? Could this be the elusive 'turning of the corner' sought by the Windies Cricket team and indeed the racing fraternity? To the eyes of the veterans of the Industry: yes! This could be it, this MUST be it. The future looks bright. The cooperation seen in the promotion of last weekend by the named industry giants needs to be nurtured and improved. Racing can improve, must improve, if only all concerned put egos aside and COOPERATE. See you at the track!