VERNAL LLOYD WALKER - Father of Omar Walker, a strong, proud racing man
VERNAL Walker, the father of four-time champion jockey Omar Walker, has been around horse racing at Caymanas Park for over 50 years and at one point wanted to become a jockey.
The 62-year-old Walker is a regular face at the track and can usually be found in the Club Stand area of the Park and the Parade Ring where he uses his keen knowledge of horses to assess and assist in his punting endeavours.
After Walker graduated from Port Henderson Primary School, he came straight into horse racing with the intention of becoming a jockey but was stopped in his tracks when his mother, Merriam Walker, would have none of it.
"I left primary school and came to the track with the hope of becoming a jockey, but my old lady (mother) told me no," Walker said.
"She said that horse racing was a dangerous sport and that she was not going to sign any paper for me to attend jockey school," Walker told the Complete Racing Guide.
Walker shared that although his mother did not want him to ride, he took the decision to come to the track by himself as he loved the sport so much that somehow he had to find a way of getting involved in horse racing.
"After my old lady told me that I could not ride, I still came to the track and watched horses exercise in the mornings until I developed a special love for them, which until this day, I still have and will never lose," Vernal said. Walker then became a fixture at the track and it was not long after he was introduced to the grooming horses by trainer Oswald Lee in 1964. "In 1964, I started grooming horses for trainer Oswald Lee. The first horse that I looked after was The Flyer," Walker said.
Over the years, Walker honed his grooming skills and as is customary among grooms in Jamaica, spread his services across other stables, working for Harry Parsard and Fitz Crawford.
Vernal then left the racing industry to work at the National Water Commission (NWC), but it was no surprise that 10 years later he returned to racing as it was still his first love. The racing bug could not be removed. "I left track for 10 years to work at the NWC but eventually came back because I was so much in love with horse racing," the 62-year-old said.
By the year 2000, Walker had developed his skills in the difficult and rare area of swimming horses. "The last thing I did at the Park was swimming horses -- that was in 2000. Some horses, because of injuries or something else, find it difficult to work on the track. So they do their training at sea, and that is where I came in, to guide and protect them," Walker said.
When his son, four-time champion jockey Omar Walker left school, Vernal would let Omar accompany him to the track in the mornings. It was then he introduced his son to the various trainers and also to the grooms.
"When Omar left school his mother agreed to let him come to the racetrack with me. I would carry him out to sea and carry him around trainers," Vernal said.
The older Walker said that by the time Omar started his career as a jockey in 2006 he was in full support of his son. Three years later Omar told his father to take permanent leave from the track.
"Omar told me in 2009 to take it easy now and that I should leave racing and that he was going to take care of me," Vernal said.
Vernal is extremely proud of the accomplishments of his son and is rooting strongly for him to win this year's jockey's title in what has become a battle with Dane Nelson.
"Omar is a good boy. He works hard, and has done really well. Four times as the top jockey and over 700 winners is quite good. I am very pleased and happy as a father. He is a good rider, and if he continues to work hard, he will do even better. And of course, I am giving him my full support as he tries again to be champion jockey," father Walker said.
Apart from racing, Vernal Lloyd Walker can be found at Newland District where he takes pride in raising goats.