Tue | Dec 6, 2016

Horse racing at a dead end

Published:Sunday | December 7, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Ainsley Walters

CAYMANAS TRACK Limited (CTL) managed to sidestep industrial action by its unionised workers last Thursday night, yet another sign that the Government-run promoter of local horse racing is in deep trouble.

In addition to not being able to meet purse payments on time, CTL also can't afford to grant staffers a wage increase, forcing them to put a gun to management's head - an action that was planned for Superstakes Day last month.

Whatever agreement was reached between management and workers will further negatively impact CTL's bottom line, adding to its many woes, which the Government tried to ease with a $50m bailout about two or so months ago.

It is, indeed, sad that local horse racing, last reporting sales of $4.3b, 2012-2013, continues to struggle with no infrastructural investment by its owner, the Government of Jamaica, which, instead, is trying to sell a bad business model in the name of divestment.

To make matters worse, those tasked with 'preparing CTL for divestment' continue to do the same things, day after day, expecting a different result from that which has been obtained since the claiming and condition system of classifying horses, implemented January 1993, started the slow and painful, now accelerated, death of local racing.

INEVITABLE END WITHOUT CHANGE

Until CTL's management, the Ministry of Finance, the Jamaica Racing Commission (JRC), the Betting Gaming and Lotteries Commission (BGLC), the Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders Association of Jamaica, the Jamaica Racehorse Owners Association, and both trainers associations, come to the realisation that claiming and condition racing is an unprofitable model in a one-track jurisdiction, it makes absolutely no sense keeping local racing on life support because the end is inevitable.

First, in order to have competitive racing, there has to be a quality bank of horses from which to assemble races that are profitable for CTL by way of each runner being a viable betting interest to punters.

A quality bank of horses can only be guaranteed by owners and breeders who are paid purses on time and not taxed an arm and a leg to import animals into the country to provide employment for trainers, jockeys, grooms, CTL staffers, the bookmaking industry, JRC, BGLC, and all other service providers associated with local racing.

What has happened since 1993 is that the conditions and claiming system of classifying horses in local racing has chased away the majority of these owners and breeders, who are simply not interested in offering their horses for sale in order to win a claiming race.

What is left is a handful of owners who don't mind passing on broken-down horses, via claiming, to a majority who really can't afford to own horses but do so in a game of musical chairs with lame horses as players.

Owners must have the option of not declaring their horses on a claim tag, regardless of the designation of the race. In other words, let those who are interested in selling their horses nominate with a claim tag, but all races must comprise runners in a particular rating group, which must be based on past performance, and the field handicapped for betting purposes after assembled.

RATE HORSES

For CTL to have viable racing, each runner in every race, apart from maidens and three-year-old classics, must be afforded as good a chance as the other of winning, which can only be achieved by rating horses after each performance.

Rating takes into account the manner in which a horse won, quality of opposition, track condition, weight carried, among other variables.

Therefore, after like is assembled by way of offering races to a particular rating group, handicapping then further fine-tunes the chances of each runner, spurring betting interest among connections and punters.

How can condition racing, which is allotting a basic weight, with none of the above taken into consideration, ever yield competitive racing? What happens when a horse wins a six-furlong maiden race, by 12 lengths, in 1:13.0 and meets another, which had struggled to win in 1:17.0, at the next rung of the condition system - a 'non-winners-of-two' condition race? Do they belong in the same rating class? Should they even be in the same race?

More so, how can claiming, which allows horses to hop, skip and jump classes at will, from the highest to the lowest groups, decimating betting in races, inspire confidence in the betting public? How does the punter follow such a system of racing? What happens to the betting in that race? Doesn't CTL have to pay out a purse on that race?

BETTER GUIDE FOR PUNTERS

Wouldn't the punter be better guided in knowing there are 30 or so horses in each rating group, classes F-A, with which he would become familiar and be better able to make betting decisions based on rating and weight movements after performances over particular distances?

If this doesn't make better sense to those so charged with 'preparing CTL for divestment', they should ask themselves one simple question: Why does thriving Trinidad and Tobago, whose racing product Christopher Armond now presides over, practise optional claiming and handicap racing, not conditions and claiming, the system which he had introduced to Jamaica in January 1993?

As for the argument that rating and handicapping promotes corruption by way of owners, trainers and jockeys conspiring to have horses underperform, and the threat of a claim tag is a way to police local racing, why haven't France, Australia, England and many other jurisdictions adopted the condition and claiming system practised primarily in North America?

The JRC is the body tasked with policing local racing and should take full responsibility for its portfolio, including seeking increased penalties for instances of corruption, as is done elsewhere in the world.

Ainsley 'Jimmie' Walters is a sports reporter with special interest in horse racing. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and ainsley.walters@gleanerjm.com.