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Sharpe: Caymanas Park needs tender loving care

BY HG HELPS
Editor-at-Large
helpsh@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Relatively new Chairman of Supreme Ventures Racing and Entertainment Ltd (SVREL) Solomon Sharpe is champing at the bit and all set to reach the winning post in style in his bid to improve the fortunes of Jamaica's horse racing.

And tender loving care is, in his estimation, what the lifetime horseman and retired Manning Cup and National Premier League footballer thinks is the ideal tonic to lift the horse racing industry that has had its share of challenges for decades.

Since the Government's divestment of Caymanas Track Ltd to Supreme Ventures in March 2017, there has been great expectation that the industry, proceeds from which also contribute to other sports here, will turn around in an efficient and profitable manner — one that would be the envy of related industries in the region.

Now Sharpe, whose grandfather ODC Sharpe, uncle Arthur and father Owen have played significant hands in Jamaica's racing scene over several decades, wants to pull off major achievements, without even cracking his whip as he heads down the home stretch.

“If anybody was to ask me what is my secret to bring to Caymanas Park, with all the passion and the innovation and the marketing and everything, what the park really needs is a little tender loving care,” Sharpe emphasised in an interview with the Jamaica Observer last week.

“If I have learnt something from my family … how they dealt with us as children and how we have dealt with the horses and how we have dealt with people in general, if you get in a little tender loving care, which is what I do at my business establishments with a great amount of success, we will be alright,” said Sharpe, who at the start of January succeeded Michael Bernard as chairman of the Supreme Ventures subsidiary.

And what kind of energy can the man who co-founded Main Event Entertainment company bring to the table?

“Energy is also what Caymanas Park needs right now. We have to fix Caymanas Park first and foremost. There is a rich history that exists there. When you look at racing globally, you see a lot of changes. We will have to take a real deep look into our racing, not just from having a Diamond Mile, because on a Diamond Mile race day the track makes a lot of money, but what do we do for the other 82 race days?

“We have to design and develop a consistent product. We are going to have to find a way of bringing some horses in, because if you look at what is happening in Hong Kong, that country's racing is booming. But they don't have a breeding industry, they import all these horses and they have restrictions on what can be done with the horses, how do you dispose of the horses and that kind of thing.

“So it helps to shape their industry to say how can we create the best result for our industry. We have to take a real deep look. I have been non-traditional all my life, so I have been a little heavier than most when I played ball but funny when you look at my picture now people would ask who is that skinny guy over there?

“In football they say that if you were heavy you were carrying a handicap, so how do you work around that handicap? I learnt to kick the ball properly, I became somewhat of a specialist in taking free kicks, I learned to do a long throw from Thomas McLean (former Camperdown, Boy's Town and Jamaica player) and I realised how my team could get an advantage. So I learnt a lot of things.

“I used to go into my backyard and practised all the time those things that would create a difference. In my analysis of Caymanas Park and how I have approached the job so far is everybody is focused on the obvious. My focus is not on the obvious. Having come from the lineage of the horse racing professionals, one of the things that I have learnt from racing is that there is a proper way to do things. However, you have to experiment. Racing is about experimenting.

“Sometimes you have to not put up the best jockey on paper, but you have to put somebody who was working with you to back the horse and somebody who knows the horse. We have had great success in doing that, and we have had not so great success in doing that, but what we have to do is keep dusting ourselves off and keep moving,” stated the Campion College and Tiffin University standout.

Sharpe argued that the traditional way of doing business at Caymanas Park had not achieved the desired results. Describing Caymanas Park as a facility that has provided “great fun” for many and careers for countless, the business executive said that it was now important to take horse racing to the next level and place the future of the industry into the best direction possible.

As for him being accepted by the racing fraternity as chairman of a company that represents a billion-dollar industry, Sharpe, who described himself as the “non-traditional” type, is encouraged by responses to his presence so far, although he knows deep down that there are some who will always be posing questions about his fitness and capacity to do the job required of him.

“By non-traditional, I have been always one of the people. I have always morphed myself into the environment. For example, I have nothing against wearing a jacket or tie, and I did that a lot when I was a youngster out of school working. I became a little rebellious and the more rebellious I became is the more success that followed me along the way.

“In me just being me, a lot of times a lot of people never looked at me as being a chairman. They always associated a chairman as being someone who was always upon that pinnacle — wore a suit and behaved in a certain kind of manner. But again, we are in a changing world, so I have had to come to grips and embrace my position and I have had to say, whilst I will always by 'Solla', I cannot vary too far from 'Solla', because it's 'Solla' they want to do this job. However, sometimes chairman 'Solla' has to show up and chairman 'Solla' has to operate within the ambit of being the chairman, whatever that means. At the end of the day the most important thing for me is not to change and to deliver for Caymanas Park, because I know what it is like to be a trainer and a breeder. I have spent a lot of time with the grooms, because when you become a trainer and have to spend time with problem horse late at night and early morning, you understand the plight of the grooms and the work that they put in; you understand the plight of a jockey and how dangerous their job is.

“I have spent a lot of time on the backstretch with all these people because everybody has a different cry, and I try to make the best decisions for everybody all at once which is almost impossible but you have to take them little by little. So for me it's not just trying to do everything overnight, its attacking every issue and creating them into opportunities one by one,” stated Sharpe