Fri | Dec 6, 2019

Paul Wright | Drop the egos, save our racing!

Published:Tuesday | November 19, 2019 | 12:21 AM
Punters in the stands at Caymanas Park in St Catherine look on at action in the fifth race of the day on Saturday, September 14, 2019.

The celebration of the achievements of jockeys, trainers, owners, and horses that highlighted what was arguably the most exciting weekend in the history of Jamaican racing is in danger of being upended by the exposure of what can only be described as subhuman conditions at the only racetrack in the country, Caymanas Park.

There is no doubt that the divestment of Caymanas Park to Supreme Ventures Racing and Entertainment Limited (SVREL) by the de facto owners at the time, the Government of Jamaica, was because there was just not enough money and racing nous available to changing governments to implement the changes necessary for profitability. So, along came SVREL, who convinced the Government that they had the cash and could employ those with the necessary racing expertise to run a successful industry. After divestment, a few men with a long history of Jamaican racing knowledge tried to explain to the new owners that profitability just could not be possible for the first three to five years of operation.

At first, it appeared that this concept of continued investment BEFORE profitability was understood, but after a major shake-up at the top, it appears to some racing minds that profitability NOW was the main aim. This mimicked the mindset of businessmen who seemed to be bereft of the nuances of the promotion of racing in a country with only one racetrack, a limited number of racing horses, and a public now exposed to numerous betting opportunities. Thus, priorities are shifted frequently in this mad rush to make a positive return on their investment. This leaves critical areas of a successful industry neglected. If this neglect goes on for too long while the neglected see cash being pumped into areas other than their own, then the resulting exposé of vermin in horse stalls and subhuman conditions for the safety and comfort of the grooms will inevitably follow.

Takes cash to care

The immediate needs of racing at Caymanas are more horses and more betters. That means a revamping of the present policy of a government tax on the importation of racing horses, especially fillies that will become future additions to the breeding stock, and a meaningful look at the attractiveness of the sport to new punters. That being said does not in any way diminish the importance of the living conditions of both horses and grooms. That, too, is of vital importance to the success of the industry. But as a former prime minister is quoted as saying, “It takes cash to care.” Therein lies the dilemma facing the promoting company. So, what is so desperately needed is a meeting of the minds of the people that matter: the promoter, the Government, and the stakeholders, along with a “punter,” the only one without a spokesperson but who continues to be underutilised and disrespected.

Racing can be saved and can be profitable and successful. This proposed meeting MUST be arranged as a matter of urgency because these exposés will continue with the chilling effect of making the necessary changes too little and too late. It was expected that the divestment would result in a hands-off government policy, but the industry is in trouble, and it behoves everyone involved to put egos aside and unite to save this important facet of Jamaican life.

Dr Paul Wright is a sports medicine specialist and radio personality.