Jimmy says | Why was DaCosta so polarising?
BEING familiar with the demeanour and mannerisms of most players at Caymanas Park, a near four-decade observance of their reactions, throughout highs and lows, it was stiflingly humorous to hear most struggle to say something ‘good’ about Wayne DaCosta in the aftermath of the leading all-time trainer’s death.
It was so humorous that one player turned what should have been a reaction to DaCosta’s death into a sound bite bigging up himself. Truth be told, most of them hated his guts, no pun intended.
Though he sat in the ‘brown’ perch (yes, there is such a place...no hypocrisy around here) during exercise mornings at Caymanas Park, DaCosta struck a polarising figure in the horse-racing industry, envied by his peers but revered by punters.
Not that he was a likeable guy, probably within his inner circle, but DaCosta was bedevilled by the one thing that afflicts all great achievers, a selfish drive to be the best at what he did, which, naturally, didn’t go down well with many persons.
The DaCosta envy was so bad that, Omar Walker, while winning a record six jockeys’ championships, riding as first-call in the 18-time champion trainer’s barn, faced thinly veiled castigation for his professional association with the man, even to this day.
Whenever separated from DaCosta’s barn, the leading all-time jockey, who has won every race imaginable at Caymanas Park, scrounges to get aboard horses for other trainers, oh, it’s his attitude, they claim.
The envy targeting DaCosta’s achievements was so rife that there were endless coups plotted over the years to dethrone him as champion trainer, a reign which ended in 2018 with 18 crowns, three years after he surpassed Philip Feanny by winning a 15th title in 2015. Funny how the numbers line up, isn’t it?
The big question remains: What did DaCosta do wrong to be so envied, apart from successfully navigating a system of racing, which has all but wrecked the entire local industry?
Put DaCosta’s career under the microscope and closer examination will show that of his 18 titles, only one, 1984 (Horse of the Year Thornbird) was recorded pre-1993, (drumroll, please) before introduction of the ‘claiming and conditions’ system at Caymanas Park by ‘Over My Dead Body’ (will rating and handicapping return) Christopher Armond.
DaCosta, utilising a bunch of talented imported runners, disgracefully starting their local careers as maidens, competing against hapless local-breds, who happened to win two races among weak peers, discovered the loophole to his dominance – ‘conditions’, superior foreigners amassing a string of wins, and millions in purses, before facing worthy opponents, a financial disaster for successive promoting companies.
Prior to 1993, all imported horses started their careers at B2. In the rating and handicapping system, they either went up in class by way of performance, most of them surely did, or remained at that level for the rest of their careers, carrying less weight the more they became exposed, or, if they were mares, off to the breeding shed they went.
This policy was in place specifically for importers to keep an eye out for quality, though higher priced, when deciding to purchase a horse overseas for racing purposes locally. The policy ensured that B2 and above always had foreign-bred horses of quality and quantity, who were moved quickly upwards in the ratings (class) by the handicapper, and ability properly equalised with as much as 133lb in A Class, after proving they were worthy of the impost.
Ever wondered why DaCosta was unable to win the Superstakes during those dominant years before SHE’S A MANEATER came along? Foreigners couldn’t compete in the now-discontinued super-rich race.
However, when governments in Asia started encouraging development of their racing industries by offering importation subsidies, driving up prices and horse-importation costs on a battered Jamaican dollar, DaCosta did a smart switcharoo and encouraged his owners to shun that market.
While gradually making the switch, Lady Luck and ‘conditions’ smiled on him with two horses in particular, SEEKING MY DREAM and SHE’S A MANEATER, who were solely responsible for cementing his ‘legend’, winning four of five ultra-rich Diamond Mile races, never carrying topweight, the last of which, however, couldn’t help him to grab a 19th title.
The claiming and conditions system might have made DaCosta a ‘legend’ but the most important player in the racing industry, the promoter, is none the better, its racing model badly in need of an overhaul that puts the promoter’s profitability first, from which viability for all will trickle downwards.
Ainsley ‘Jimmie’ Walters has been covering horse racing for more than 25 years for the Gleaner Company (Media) Limited and is the editorial and production coordinator for the Track And Pools race form.