The racing surface at Caymanas Park is in urgent need of attention.

I don’t have to be at exercise gallops or touring stables every day (as was my routine years ago) to know this. Analysis of the weekly track variants since the New Year makes it pellucid something is very wrong.

What follows are race day track variants for 2023 in chronological order. As in your OBOs segment, they are expressed in fifths of a second per 200 metres. A plus sign means the track was slow while minus denotes a fast track. Your track variants should never be too fast (too hard) or too slow (too deep). Zero means a fair track:

+0.5 (January 1); +0.7 (first seven races January 7; track sloppy afterwards); +0.7 (January 14); +0.6 (Sunday, January 15); +1,4 (January 21); +1.9 (January 28). These graphic statistics (without the dates) expose a damning trend: +0.5; +0.7; +0.7; +0.6; +1.4; +1.9!

This is dangerous. Abnormally slow tracks put unnecessary stress on horses that exercise and race on them causing muscle, tendon or ligament injury. Or what betting Brits would call a “Trixie” which is any combo of three.

Jamaican horse racing needs this like it needs the next pandemic which, whether we like it or not; whether SVREL plans for it or not; is coming in the next couple years as sure as horse dung is stink. Horseracing world wide, but especially in Jamaica, is already limping along carrying chronic diseases.

From The Economist (January 17; Horseracing in Britain is in deep trouble):

The best measure of the health of horse-racing is the average field size, the number of horses competing in a race. At 8.46 across both flat and jumps racing in 2022, this figure is at its lowest in Britain since records began in 1995.

In Jamaica, there are zero jump races (jumps fields tend to be smaller). The average field size in 2022 was 7.8! In 2023 (up to January 28); the average field size is down to 7.66! Importantly, regarding the racing surface, during those six race days, NINE horses either didn’t finish (4); whipped around at the start (2); took no part after entering the gates (2) or fell (1). Not a single race day has passed without one or more of these mishaps. Additionally, in the first race on January 7, two jockeys fell during the race.

These incidents usually go unnoticed by so-called “racing journalists” who are laser focused on predicting tomorrow’s winners based on what they did yesterday. But these incidents require professional investigative journalism because they almost always mean the horse is in pain or victimized by a poorly maintained racing surface.

While we’re about incidents at the off, would the Starter please stop hanging around behind the gates pretending to be a gate handler? It already takes interminably long to load the starters so it’s just embarrassing to see the starter jogging from behind the gates to his starting position AFTER loading is complete thus allowing more time for something to go wrong while highly string animals horses are cooped up in iron stalls.

The Economist continued:

The reasons include rising costs and climate change – dry summer prevented many young horses from racing on hard ground. But the big problem is falling prize money, which declined by 11% between 2018 and 2021.

We have these problems as well. Thanks to seminal foresight shown by the Danny Melville led Promoter in the early 1990s, Jamaica’s race track was reconstructed with a new type of surface that was among the world’s best so we don’t suffer from hard tracks. But, over the years, lack of regular maintenance, especially grading, has left us with the opposite problem which is the track is often too slow to the detriment of horses’ health.

Purse money, especially when compared to real terms, has been below subsistence levels for 20 years. SVREL’s recent decision to tag purses to Tote sales is correct but its sleight-of-hand in excluding simulcast sales is disingenuous and harmful to the industry it says it’s promoting. Local racing brings in the customers who stay for simulcasts. Local racing investors deserve, have earned and need subsidy from all Tote sales but, yet again, greed, masquerading as economic necessity, is conspiring to kill the goose that lays the golden egg.

So we combine a dying breeding industry, the womb of horseracing, gasping for life support; an aging customer base we refuse to regenerate with modern marketing strategies including live horseracing on TV (even radio coverage of average quality is missing in action presumed dead) and easily navigated, information filled websites; with a poorly maintained race track.

SOMEBODY must be high! Or suicidal!

Now here’s an industry, unlike the embarrassment that’s our securities industry which is one driven by insider trading and dishonesty, not only crying out for but deserving of a government bailout (oops, sorry “assistance”). Government must step in to protect a nationally vital industry. Subsidizing Breeders as an agricultural enterprise is essential but there are many other ways investment in the industry can be stimulated including by Government using tax incentives or direct subsidies to reduce the cost of training, importation of horses and horse feed. Also it’s time to reduce insanely high “commissions” to trainers, jockeys and grooms. These world high commissions, when charged in addition to regular training fees, drives away potential owners while stifling and discouraging new investment.

A hotel only needs to build a room or two to be exempt from taxes for years. Why can’t the racing industry, that employs and entertains so many of our own AND has unexplored tourism potential, receive similar treatment?



Abbreviations: CT = “Corrected Time”; TV = “Track Variant” (a calculation of track conditions’ effect on official times to arrive at “real/corrected” times); TVs are expressed in fifths of a second; “minus” (-) means a fast track; “plus” (+) a slow track (e.g -2 is fast by 2/5th second). Variants beside horse’s names represent the difference between its official time and the grade standard.

JANUARY 21, 2023 [TV+1.4 per 200m (Round); +7 (straight)]

SHADOWFAX (-3) is obviously sound now (Race 8; 4yonw2; 1400m; TV+10) so made all and discombobulated the field winning by 8½ lengths in 1:28.3! His CT (1:26.3)  is only 2/5th second slower than Overnight Allowance standard so, once sound, he’s one to follow especially as there’s certainly more in the tank.

EL AFORTUNADO (-1) improved markedly (Race 2; 3yo maiden special weight; 110m; TV+8) on a creditable debut winning by nine lengths in 1:08.2! His CT (1:06.4) is 3/5th second slower than Overnight Allowance standard. He remains likely to improve again so is one to follow if allowed to go through his 3yo conditions.   

Overseas Betting Opportunities (OBOs)

An important two day meeting begins at Leopardstown race track (Ireland) tomorrow with pointers to the Cheltenham Festival likely available. Features are the Irish Arkle (Grade 1 Novices Chase; 2m1f; 1430GMT; 9.30a.m. Jamaica Time) and Irish Gold Cup (Grade 1 Chase; 3m44y; 1505GMT; 10.05 a.m. Jamaica Time). Even at this much too early time of writing the Arkle looks a straight fight between Willie Mullins’ classy novices Appreciate It (unbeaten in two races over fences) and Dysart Dynamo (impressive winner on Chasing debut over course and distance on December 27). It’ll be a ground dependent race day decision. The former would prefer it as soft as possible while the latter is probably best on good to soft or faster.

In the Gold Cup Willie Mullins’ Galopin Des Champs is currently long odds-on favourite based on his destruction of a Grade 1 Chase at Punchestown on his first run outside of novice company. That was at 2½ miles so, although he did win a Punchestown hurdle at 3 miles (April 2021) he has raced exclusively at shorter otherwise.

Willie trains six of the eleven current entries but, at these cramped odds, the favourite can be taken on with Gordon Elliott’s more experienced CONFLATED somewhat of a course and distance specialist (form figures 311) and versatile regarding going.

Nest week the Big American show is on. No, I’m not talking about Rihanna’s half time or Sheryl Lee Ralph’s pre-game performances. In this highly anticipated clash between Philadelphia Eagles and KANSAS CITY CHIEFS I’m expecting the CHIEFS to win another Lombardi Trophy. Patrick Mahomes is clearly the real deal with true grit and determination added to out-of-this-world skills and Andy Reid the ideal coach.  

Now here’s another for your Notebook:

SALVADOR ZIGGY [7yo b.g El Salvador-Doncisha (Westerner)] carried top weight in what looks a key race at Cheltenham (October 22) and finished fourth behind Botox Has (2nd) and An Tailliur (3rd) both former eye-catchers. The winner, Shoot First, is now a short-price favourite the Festival’s Pertemps final and Botox Has franked the form when winning a Haydock handicap next time out from a 4lb higher mark. Salvador Ziggy could find a race at Cheltenham or Aintree this spring especially on good ground

Good Luck!

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