There is need for a new look
Now that the racing industry has been 'Socialised' there is a need for a new look at our regulations and how the industry is managed.
There needs to be a lot more vigilance in the areas of stable and farm management. The costs relating to the proper care of horses is way beyond the means of the majority of those who have been licensed as owners and trainers. I recall some time ago a particular trainer was the subject of an enquiry into the emaciated state of the horses under his care. One would have expected a long period of suspension but all that transpired was a gentle slap on the wrist and his promise to take better care of his horses.
My heart grieves every time that I drive by the bit of land opposite Caribbean Estate on the Old Port Henderson Road. There you will see some emaciated-looking mares with equally sickly looking foals eking out an existence on land devoid of any nutritious vegetation.
There must be some process to ensure the proper care of animals. Within the racing industry, this is the responsibility of the Jamaica Racing Commission (JRC) and they must become more proactive in this area. This is particularly of importance at this time when the economic strain is being felt at all levels.
The abandoning of horses is on the increase. In recognition of this, the Jockey Club set up a fund some time ago to 'rescue' horses abandoned. The Jamaica Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals is hard-pressed to keep up with the demands on their services. It is imperative, therefore, that the JRC becomes more active in this area, with the understanding that funding is available from the Jockey Club.
Of interest is the recent case of a New York breeder who faces up to two years in prison for failing to provide proper care of horses under his control. The Long Island resident who owned Central Brook Farm was found to be grossly negligent in the management of his farm. More than 170 emaciated, deformed, lice-infested thoroughbreds were discovered on his farm and several had to be euthanised.
Witnesses described the animals as "walking skeletons" and nothing but "bones". The breeder tried to deflect blame, saying his veterinarian and farm manager never told him about the condition of the horses.
This case has prompted changes in the way New York farms are monitored. Now there are mandatory regular farm inspections. The regulators have recognised that they have a duty to ensure that the horrendous conditions at this farm should never again manifest themselves in the barns and pastures of New York state. The message is clear - serious consequences await those who fail to provide proper care and sustenance to horses. Let us see our own JRC taking a firm hand in this area with special emphasis on regular inspection of racing stables and breeding farms. The punishment for offences involving the poor condition of horses must be severe enough to be a major deterrent.
Moving on to a different subject, equally as sad, my racing associates keep asking me why I no longer attend racing at Caymanas Park.
It is not easy to walk away from an activity that has been part of your life for some 40-plus years. But the time has come when one has to take stock and measure the cost. The overriding consideration in my decisions is the frustration brought about by the inability of the stakeholders in the industry to make any meaningful impact on the urgent restructuring which is needed. I must admit to my own failures in getting the support needed to move the industry forward.
Failure is not something to which I am accustomed, and that probably explains my desire to give up and leave the struggle to others. The question I will always ask is: Why? The solutions are so obvious. Why can't we, like sensible people, "grasp this sorry scheme of things entire, shatter it to bits, and then remould it closer to the heart's desire". Possibly being pregnant with impatience brings a lack of tolerance and understanding.
Racing in every country is part of the entertainment industry. If properly organised and funded, it provides a premier advertising opportunity, capitalising on its history and entertainment value. But, while elsewhere the emphasis is on increasing the attractiveness of the sport, here it is treated like a pariah.
People no longer flock to racing. Even the diehards are now questioning the value of the return on their investments on each bet placed.
They now question what appears to be a breakdown in the integrity of the sport.
They now question the poor quality of services and accommodation.
They now question the inadequacy of security and the 'slums' which parade themselves as stables.
They are appalled at the low return to punters - the lowest in the world.
They can't understand why decisions taken five years ago to install proper seating and remodel the entrance to the clubhouse area with a much-needed elevator still remains undone.
They can't imagine why the simulcasting of racing and commingling which was in the contract stage five years ago is still not yet implemented.
One could go on and on with a litany of woes. For me, the last straw was the increase in takeout to over 30 per cent, a decision which shows a total lack of the understanding of the dynamics of gaming. Whatever it is, I have had enough and I now exhort others to continue the struggle.
Howard Hamilton is the former chairman of Caymanas Track Limited and is currently the president of the Jamaica Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association. He may be contacted at email: howham @cwjamaica.com.