CHARLES KONG SOO
The banners yesterday bore ‘Angel’ before Christopher Mohammed’s name.
With horse racing continuing to flirt perilously close to the precipice with respect to its future one day, then on another, find some very positive light, news has filtered out of a change to the eligibility requirements for next year’s Classic season.
While the changes by the Arima Race Club (ARC) has already generated considerable debate amongst the racing community, this is healthy discussion, which can only be good for the sport as nobody has all the answers on their own but together racing has a chance.
Internationally, the concept of Classic races restricted to horses bred only in the country (or by extension) region in which they are born is unheard of. Subject to usual quarantine requirements, horses bred anywhere in the world can usually compete in any of the classic races scheduled in any racing programme.
Classic races being described for the time being as races restricted to three-year-old horses. In the Caribbean, given the generally accepted lower quality of the breed, it was recognised that to open the Classic races up to horses bred anywhere in the world, would signal the quick demise of the local breeding industry (and eventually the demise of the racing industry since the majority of the horses that compete locally are bred locally).
To accommodate the introduction of new blood into the region, parallel premier races that could be contested by foreign bred animals were also scheduled into the racing programme.
In T&T specifically, prior to changes in the racing schedule, the local Derby (the Trinidad Derby) and the foreign premier race (the Gold Cup) were contested on the same day—Boxing Day. Over time, the two races would be contested on different days enabling local champions to compete in the open premier race.
Fast forward to the present and one of the main challenges facing the local racing industry is the relatively small size of the racing population, which makes it difficult to sustain large betting fields in many of the races. This in turn results in lower betting turnover and less funds available to the racing club to maintain its plant and promote the growth of the sport.
A secondary, and by no mean major, challenge is the low quality of the racing stock when compared to our cousins in Jamaica. The consequence of which has been a continuous domination of the classic series of races by animals bred in Jamaica.
Over the last few years, to compensate for this domination, a T&T-only Classic series (culminating in a Breeders Classic for horses bred only in T&T) was introduced. Due to financial considerations over time, this series and the major event which started on a par with the Derby itself, has seen its purse eroded substantially.
The recent proposal by the ARC to allow imported fillies to contest the Classic events appears designed to promote the importation of fillies presumably for them to eventually convert into breeding prospects and therefore boost the quality of the local stock.
The approach traditionally undertaken by past administrations was to provide incentives to import mares in utero, whose foals would be considered as local and eligible for the Classic races. This approach however carried more risks to the importer, not to mention the fact that not all owners wanted to be breeders.
One of the most successful examples of this approach in action was the Ruthven Smith owned Headline News in T&T and Bruceontheloose in Jamaica (before he came to T&T).
The new approach carries no more risk than that associated with the purchase of any horse. One issue with this approach is that very few owners have the capacity to purchase an animal at an overseas sale, though it can be argued that the same holds through re the purchase of horses from Jamaica.
The main drawback however is that the approach might prove to be the final nail in the coffin of the local breeding industry rather than the saviour that it is promised to be. Paradoxically, it can be argued that if imported two-year-old fillies can compete in the classics, why would these fillies, when they retire, be attractive from a breeding perspective since their offspring will in turn, be unable to compete with imported two-year-old fillies of their generation.
The problem that the ARC is attempting to solve is an unenviable one and there is little doubt that even if approved by the TTRA, it can only be short-lived. The question will be who really benefits during that short-lived period—the sport or the owner(s) of the few imported fillies.
Therefore perhaps some sort of trial period engaged in with the opportunity also presented for persons in this country who may not be able to travel abroad and purchase fillies to have a chance to own a two-year-old, via some pre purchase by those in authority and then open sale arrangement in T&T.
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