‘Riding in a free Jamaica’ - ... Veteran jockey/trainer relives independence buzz at Caymanas Park
For former jockey and trainer Harry Jaghai, competing at Caymanas Park in 1962, during the swell of independence and national pride, will forever be branded in his memory as one of his greatest experiences in life.
Jaghai is the only jockey alive to have ridden at the Knutsford Park Racecourse (now New Kingston), the Old Harbour-based Little Ascot Race Track, which are now both no longer in existence, as well as Caymanas Park, the current home of horse racing in Jamaica.
The 82-year-old Jaghai, who retired from racing in 1980, only won three races during his short career as a jockey, but there are only a few things that could match his emotions, riding in front of thousands of flag-waving fans at Caymanas Park in a newly independent Jamaica.
“It was joyful riding during independence because we had a lot of fun. In those days, a lot more persons were coming to the track and there were a lot of Jamaica flags all over the track,” Jaghai told The Gleaner.
“You could see the look on the jockeys’ faces during the race days, they were all happy, and I was very happy as well because you felt a sense of pride during that time,” he added.
His first and only win at Caymanas Park, which was developed at the site of a former sugar estate in 1959 – three years before independence – arrived years later in 1976 aboard POLLYFEEMOUS. He went on to secure a trainer’s licence in that same year and immediately shifted his focus from riding the equine athletes to conditioning them.
He, however, only trained for a little over a year before leaving the trade altogether.
Earlier in his career, Jaghai won aboard QUILT at the Little Ascot Race Track, and then won two more races at Knutsford Park Race Track.
“I think that it is a remarkable achievement for me and I am happy that I was able to do it,” Jaghai shared. “I am happy because it is part of history because I have won one race each at all three tracks. I should have won more but I was anxious for the winning post to come.”
Jaghai has a rich heritage in horse racing in Jamaica. His son Howard currently trains horses at Caymanas Park, while his brother Henry W. Jaghai is a seven-time champion trainer.
“In those days, especially in the 1960s, everybody wanted to become a jockey because it was bit easier, but being from a horse-racing family, I could not have done anything else apart from being in racing,” Jaghai shared.
The sport of horse racing has a strong link to Jamaica’s colonial past. Horses were believed to have been brought to Jamaica by Spanish settlers in 1509. Records show that the earliest importation of stock from England for racing took place in 1777. During slavery, the best jockeys were actually slaves, and Jamaican-bred horses grew a strong reputation in the region over the years.
Racing remains one of the most popular sports in Jamaica today.