Jamaica’s latest Triple Crown winner, (the epitome of racing quests) Supreme Soul returned to the island on Monday, February 10 2020 with full television coverage. Readers may recall that this colt, trained by Champion Trainer Nunes, left Jamaica in November 2019 to represent the country in the Caribbean Classic, a race for the best 3 year olds in the region, battling for prize money and bragging rights.

The closest Jamaica has come to international racing glory was the victory of Miracle Man, a horse trained by the late legendary Allan (AE) “Billy” Williams who won the Confraternity Classic in Puerto Rico some years ago.

Whenever any athlete — human or animal — enters competition, the primary focus is to defeat other competitors at that level before moving on to beat the better competitors, etc. For example, a child who competes at school sports and does well, next looks forward to “Champs”, and if successful, then Carifta, then World Juniors, World Youth and ultimately the Olympics.

So it is with horses. First, the horse is expected to win a “maiden” race, then move up the ranks to the Classics. If outstanding, then international competition. For us in Jamaica, there have been attempts at international racing among our Caribbean counterparts, but this has not been sustainable mainly because of finances. So the Caribbean Classic was the ultimate aim, the prize. In recent years, finances and other bureaucratic reasons kept us out of the annual renewal of this race. So, when it was known that the race was in nearby Florida there was an interest in getting our champion, our Triple Crown winner, to compete.

Two horses from the English-speaking Caribbean entered. A Jamaican bred horse: Juice Man, who was competing in Trinidad and Tobago, and Supreme Soul from Jamaica. The excitement in local horse racing circles was palpable. After the usual preparation, our champion left for Florida. Television coverage was impressive and whereas Supreme Soul was not the same horse that had all and sundry behind during the Triple Crown series, (he had not been so “supreme” when competing against older horses) we had a chance.

So, the race came and Supreme Soul did not do as well as expected. Even Juice Man from Trinidad and Tobago beat him; but we competed.

Then came some disturbing news. As I understand it, Supreme Soul, as part of the requirements for competition in Florida, tested negative for “tick fever”, a dreaded illness that causes the sufferers not to be at their best when competing. On arrival in Florida the horses was tested again by the Florida authorities and was again: negative. After the race, however, another test was returned as: positive.

Tick Fever is not endemic in Florida and so there is no treatment readily available. The horse was placed in quarantine, so as not to spread the disease, and the authorities in Jamaica contacted. I am informed that the senior veterinarian at Caymanas Park, Dr. Sophia Ramdal, suggested that the horse be returned to the island, and then placed in quarantine at the track to be treated because the treatment is readily available in Jamaica, and, a lot of horses presently racing at Caymanas would test positive for the illness, so the scare would be minimal.

However, the Vet Services Division of the Ministry of Agriculture in Jamaica would have none of it. They insisted that the horse had to be treated in Florida before being allowed to return to Jamaica. So, the treatment had to be sourced in Florida and the authorities there reported that it would be sometime in March before treatment would start. Until that time the horse would have to be kept in quarantine, standing in a stall, no exercise and on “dirty bedding”.

It took a concerted howl from racing stakeholders, and aficionados, that forced the hand of the Vet Services Division to relent, and allow the horse home. And so he came home, dirty, in poor condition (an estimated weight loss of some 200 pounds) and with “soft hooves”. In layman’s language: “a mess”.

How did we come to this? The affected trainer, our national champion, has stated that he doubts very much if he would ever advocate that a local champion travel overseas to race, IF returning to the island after the race is contemplated! This CANNOT be allowed to go on without a serious attempt being made to prevent a recurrence. In other jurisdictions, the racing commission, Vet Services Division along with the local promoters and the owner of the horse do have a pre-race understanding of what is necessary for the safe and prompt return of the horse.

A protocol can and must be developed to prevent a recurrence. All that is necessary is the input of the expertise available locally to advise and assist the non-experts at the Ministry of Agriculture who would be expected to shelve any ego that may be involved and make the whole purpose of international competition a reality for the local champions in Jamaica, land we love.

Racing in Jamaica is in trouble. It can be helped. Come on, authorities, come on!

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