Howard Hamilton, Contributor
Another year has come and gone and the racing industry faces a new year with challenges no less daunting than those which face every economic and social fabric of our country. Where are we going, and how can we ensure that the chosen path will lead to the unleashing of the tremendous potential of this fascinating industry?
The racing industry remains the most misunderstood. Perceptions seem more important than facts. This has become even more so since the Government acquired the assets of the industry in 1986. In the 27 years that they have 'managed' the industry there has been a constant decline in every aspect of our once noble sport.
Divestment is once again on the agenda and indications are that this is not an 'if' but a 'when'. The stakeholders - those whose livelihood depend on a well-managed, profitable industry - are resolute in their demands that the industry be structured around their ownership and their management. These demands are not unreasonable since it is they who have most to lose if the current status quo is not radically changed.
I have always contended that
WHERE ARE WE COMING FROM?
How do we achieve this? It is impossible to move forward if you do not know where you are and, most important, where you are coming from.
The racing industry has had a long and storied past as the sport of kings, from the very earliest period after the English colonised the island and had brought world recognition to some involved with it here. Indeed, an early record in the English Stud Book showed that in 1777 a mare called Temperance raced in Jamaica, pointing to the existence of the sport and that there was importation of bloodstock to keep up the supply.
Racing records from 1816 show that those involved in the sport maintained a regular racing calendar with several meets per year. From 1824 to 1840 there were race meets throughout the island, with friendly rivalry between parishes in the novelty of purses and the stakes.
Apart from racing, breeding of horses also flourished during those times, and a stud farm at Pepper in St Elizabeth was world-renowned. How many of us recall that the stud farm at Pepper was at one time the largest in the world, standing seven stallions with over 100 broodmares? At this farm, they produced many English classic winners.
The growth of racing was quite evident by 1840, with numerous meetings in Trelawny, St James, St Catherine, St Thomas, Westmoreland, Manchester, Clarendon, St Elizabeth, St Mary, St Ann, and Kingston.
Over a decade later, there began a fall in the number of races, due to economic depression between 1851 and 1860. The slide continued during these years, with races held in fits and starts, until only Kingston, Manchester and St Elizabeth faithfully kept their annual race meets. The breeding of thoroughbreds and importation of stallions, however, continued.
Racing was again at a low ebb in 1883, but during this time there were improvements to the Kingston Race Course.
Over the years, and into another century, the fortunes of the racing industry have ebbed and flowed. Inevitably, change has come to mirror the changes in the society and from those ancient days have given rise to new classes of owners, breeders and turf owners and administrators.
I have recounted these bits from racing's past, to illustrate its long and rich history in this country. This history and tradition is one of which we should all be proud. It is a heritage which we should treasure and preserve - why, then, this apathy? Why this failure to appreciate the urgent need to halt the slide and redirect this sport along the path that will make us proud to be participants?
Racing today is as much a product of this ancient past as it is of the social, political and economic changes that have shaped Jamaica over the last 50 years. And now we are at the stage where we are begging to be liberated.
WHAT HAS BROUGHT US TO THIS SORRY STATE?
I have always contended that the decline of the racing industry is a direct result of Government's unwillingness or inability to understand the industry, the iniquitous tax structure which existed until 2007, and the legalising of bookmakers back in the early 1960s. I am still unable to appreciate how Government could license an entity to market a product without ensuring that there is adequate contribution to the expenses of producing that product.
At one stage this third part was selling more than 80 per cent of the revenue generated at the expense of the promoting the company. It remains mind-boggling - to this day these bookmakers still have pride of influence with the decision makers in Government. We will continue the journey as we try to influence the direction of the racing industry.
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: email@example.com.