Horse racing boss bolts from the starting gates
Brown vows to improve performance of CTL in preparation for divestment
Gary Spaulding, Senior Gleaner Writer
Recently appointed chairman of Caymanas Track Limited (CTL), Christopher Brown, has set his sights on reducing the financial haemorrhaging at the company and making it more attractive for potential buyers.
The Government has set next year as the deadline for the divestment of the company in charge of promoting horse racing locally, and Brown has been given the job of preparing a product that can attract a reasonable sale price.
According to Brown, there are early signs that the changes implemented so far are pushing CTL in the right direction.
"For the first time in many years, we had a marginal profit in August, relative to where we are coming from," Brown told The Sunday Gleaner.
"That is an indication that the strategies we are implementing are working," declared Brown.
CTL has projected a loss of $98.21 million for CTL this fiscal year; however that would represent a $31.2 million improvement on the estimated loss for last year.
To achieve that gain, Brown noted that several changes will have to be made at CTL, which has been a drain on the public purse for sometime.
"We are in a very perilous situation as it relates to our books, as we have been operating at significant losses for the last three to four years," admitted Brown.
He noted that the perilous nature of the finances has prevented CTL from undertaking the necessary investment to modernise the track and take care of basic routine maintenance issues.
Now the CTL board is determined to change that, but Brown accepts that the transformation is not going to happen overnight.
"It is going to require solid, strong management, bold decisions, and it is also going to require full partnership with all stakeholders across the board," said Brown.
"As chairman, I have instituted a system where every month, I meet with the leadership of the stakeholders, including owners, trainers and jockeys … . We deliberate over the issues and come to some collective positions in terms of how we go forward."
He said the mood among stakeholders is hopeful.
"They are very encouraged with the consultations, as they now have a seat at the table in the decision-making process."
Brown identified his biggest challenge as ensuring the stake-holders understand the perilous state in which the company is poised, and that it is going to take some hard decisions and revolutionary actions to move ahead.
The CTL chairman said already they have instituted systems to ensure that all arrangements are done within the ambits of stated government policies as it relates to procurements.
"We are putting in place a strong auditor to ensure that all those systems are adhered to, and where there are breaches, sanctions will be imposed."
He stressed that a technology-driven approach would be at the heart of the strategy going forward.
This, Brown said, is to ensure that sales opportunities are broadened.
He cited the introduction of telephone betting, exporting of signals and expansion of the off-track betting (OTB) system as linchpins of the way forward.
But with the Government's policy decision that the operation of local horse racing should be divested, discussions with all stakeholders in the industry is moving in that direction.
He told The Sunday Gleaner that the divestment programme is driven by a committee led by businessman Keith Duncan, and the CTL board will not interfere in that process.
Brown said he will instead be building on the work done in the first year of his predecessor, Joseph Matalon, to address the problems of the past.
Matalon had started to put in place the requisite financial system, standards, and policies to ensure that the bleeding of CTL was cauterised.
"I think we are going to build on that in an even more robust way, because it all starts with the finances," said Brown.
But he was quick to point out that cost containment alone would not get CTL moving forward on the right track.
"Our agenda at this time is not just to build on the tight financial managment, but to move into growth strategy."
The CTL chairman pointed to plans to introduce telephone betting by year-end, and the expansion of the OTBs across the island by the next month.
However, the big-ticket item identified by Brown is the planned exporting of local racing signal to overseas.
This will allow persons in other countries to bet on Jamaican racing, which will be simulcast to those locations.