An article that appeared in the Sunday and Monday edition of the Gleaner has reignited discussion on the topic of the future of the racehorse industry in Jamaica.
Ainsley Walters, a veteran racing journalist and host of his own radio programme on the local racing industry, in a two-part article headlined “Caymanas running lame” listed some of the reasons he believes that the racing industry is NOT going to improve any time soon. He fingers the claiming system and condition races as the impetus behind the declining numbers of the very people who are vital to the industry.
He pointed out that there are declining numbers of owners, breeders, jockeys, trainers and grooms which have led to the product itself fading. The numbers are in fact in support of his argument. We have less horses being bred yearly, fewer owners, leading to the unusual and unequal situation of ten (more or less) trainers having in their care the best horses that race week after week. The remaining trainers are left to scrap for “what-left” that the system where horses are entered to compete on an advertised price (a “claiming price”) produces. This system of “Claiming and condition races” has essentially replaced a handicapping and rating system where horses are assigned a particular weight based on previous runs.
In the case of the horse participating for the first time, a “weight-for-age” formula is used until the race history of the horses can be used to determine just how good the horse is. Therefore, the better horses carry more weight than their peers, in an effort to have all the entrants in a race finish in a dead-heat.
In this system, horses are promoted or demoted to a pre-determined class or division, eventually having horses of equal ability racing against each other carrying weight according to their particular “rating”. This system usually produces more equitable betting where the bettor now has to decide what conditions will make a particular horse come out on top in the race. This leads to more betting (a larger handle) and will, more times than not, reduce the times when a horse is such a standout favourite that betting, the lifeblood of the sport, is drastically reduced.
Ainsley Walter’s article recognizes that unless there are more horses racing and more people betting, racing will continue its inevitable decline.
The Chairman of the present promoter of racing in Jamaica, Supreme Ventures Racing and Entertainment Limited (SVREL), Solomon Sharpe, in an interview on KLAS Sport Radio, admits that there are adjustments to be made in the way the industry is managed. But he emphasized two things: Time (which is fast running out, as the industry is losing money and vital personnel weekly) and unity among the stakeholders in coming up with the changes that matter. So, until such time, our better riders leave for stints in Canada and North America where the option of more rides and more money is a no-brainer when considering his future.
Fewer new owners come into the sport/business, the better grooms migrate and we have less horses being bred, mainly because the breeders are coming out of the business!
The importation of new blood stock to the industry is stymied by an oppressive tax policy that renders the wholesale investment in new horses economically unfeasible as the purses paid for victory in races make only the top 10 to 15 per cent of competing horses able to earn enough to annually offset the cost of just being in racing!
The two-part article has sparked a discussion among the stakeholders. An input missing is from the regulator, the Jamaica Racing Commission, but what the chairman of SVREL keeps saying, is “let us talk”. There may be hope for racing. What is needed is the one person (with clout) who can coordinate this meeting of the minds. It has taken us more than two years and many deaths before the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition have agreed to talk on crime. Let us hope that it will not take as long for the stakeholders in racing to meet and talk.