Tue | Apr 7, 2020

Paul Wright | Racing can be profitable

Published:Tuesday | February 25, 2020 | 12:17 AM
ENGLAND ROSE (centre) ridden by Jockey Omar Walker, winning the Hot Line Stakes over 1200 metres at Caymanas Park on Saturday, February 22, 2020.
ENGLAND ROSE (centre) ridden by Jockey Omar Walker, winning the Hot Line Stakes over 1200 metres at Caymanas Park on Saturday, February 22, 2020.

The future of racing horses in Jamaica is once again in the spotlight as news has emerged of massive losses by the sole promoter of racing in Jamaica, Supreme Ventures Racing and Entertainment Limited (SVREL). It is a fact that since acquiring Caymanas Track Limited from the Government of Jamaica more than two years ago, the company has lost over $500 million dollars. It also appears that the losses for 2019, when published, will reveal more of the same – loss after loss after loss. No wonder the stakeholders are becoming increasingly apprehensive, and even in some cases, restless.

It is now recognised that the success of racing at Caymanas Park is resting on the introduction of more betting (attracting fans of the sport who have a disposable income, and are attracted to the excitement of the sport) and more horses. One of the important methods of attracting ‘new’ fans is by having racing on a free-to-air medium, a racing channel where fans and punters, who cannot make it to the park, can see and bet on the races as they happen.

The present scenario sees those with an interest in the sport, but, for different reasons, cannot attend on a given day, only having access to the race via pay-per-view or cable television. Free to air will increase the fan base. Changes to the management personnel at the track has seen different attempts at attracting new fans which have not resulted in success. The failure of a ‘raffle’, Friday night bingo and now the simulcasting of our races to Guyana has not brought the projected revenue stream that was promised. Rumours abound about a multimillion-dollar loss on the Guyana experiment, and the Diamond Mile weekend spectacular that brought ‘new’ attendees to Caymanas Park on the infield, has been abandoned and space made in the stands, displacing those diehards that are the backbone of the turnover on the tote.

Questions

One is forced to wonder just who are the principals in these blunders and whether or not they are still around making decisions. Yet the new dispensation of the company, by giving the public much needed information about their attempts to correct the litany of losses, must be recognised.

We, the public, now know that there is a new well to be sourced in order to improve the water situation now affecting the stakeholders.

Not only will more water be available to water the track daily, but the grooms and trainers will now have regular access to this vital commodity. The jockey’s room is being refurbished, making life for the masters of the pigskin a little more tolerable. Once the interest in their safety is prioritised, their happiness would be complete.

When an on-the-track accident occurs, the present arrangement for transport to a tertiary medical institution for expert care leaves a lot to be desired. The recent exploits of one of our female riders who was injured during morning exercises on the track highlighted this anomaly. The rider, in an interview, lamented the length of time it took for her to be seen and admitted to the hospital to which she was transported.

An arrangement, similar to that of other sporting organisations, where injured participants are taken to the University Hospital of the West Indies where the relevant equipment and expertise is domiciled, begs for implementation.

Not to be forgotten is the safety of the other athletes on show, the horses. Two race-days ago, a straight Five race was scheduled and started before 2 p.m. This event and time is important because the straight-five start is situated very near to the Lasix Barn, where horses who are scheduled to receive intravenous Lasix are brought by their grooms to await the injection. At the start of every race a loud bell is rang which coincides with the opening of the gate allowing all the horses to start together.

Horses are therefore trained to respond to the sound of the bell by going immediately into action. Therefore, if you can imagine horses lined up at the Lasix Barn, quietly awaiting their injection when suddenly this bell goes off. The horse, as it is trained to do, suddenly springs into action. The grooms, who are not aware that the bell is about to go off, are now faced with an equine athlete that is sure that a race for which they have been programmed and trained, has begun. The ensuing chaos is not pretty.

Some horses escape their handlers and run the risk of injury. Not only to themselves, but also to the grooms and others in the vicinity. That can easily be corrected. All that is necessary is for the relevant persons in the racing office not to schedule straight five races before 2.00pm as this is the cut-off time for participants in the later races to get the necessary race-day medication.

My own investigation has revealed that this important information has been relayed to the personnel in the racing office by veterinarians, grooms, trainers and even some board members, and yet, straight-five races continue to be scheduled before 2 p.m. on a race-day. What could be the reason why this easy and relevant request for preventive action is ignored? Could it be that the expertise of those in racing, the experts, who are aware of the potential for catastrophe are overruled by non-racing administrators who just don’t care? Let the next race programme reflect the expert advice of racing people.

Racing can be profitable and enjoyable for the fans, the punters and the stakeholders. Transparency (which has begun) and the input of the experts in racing, the stakeholders, together with the business brains of the promoter, can turn millions of annual losses into, first, break-even, and then profit. Time is of the essence. No business can withstand these type of losses forever. Action now!