THE recent summit of racing aficionados, as was expected, was nothing more than a talking shop, with the headlines dominated by Minister Horace Dalley's "Caymanas Park will not be sold cheaply" comment. There was nothing concrete, certainly from the media coverage, of any assessment much less solutions being reached to aid what is an industry in obvious decline.
Since the heydays of the 1980s, the 1990s and the early 2000s, horse racing has steadily lost its appeal and its inherent allure. The industry plods on from raceday to raceday without any apparent effort from major stakeholders to confront the major issues and to make bold decisions to combat the palpable decline. Sponsorship of racing is at an all-time low, as corporate Jamaica invariably finds other avenues to spend their promotional dollars. Imagine, major races including the much vaunted Classics being run without sponsorship presence. This is a very hard and bitter pill to swallow.
The racing plant can now accurately be given the label of irredeemable. No amount of cash, no elevator from the ground floor to 'Glass House', no amount of flowers planted in the infield, or other cosmetic repairs can really and truly resuscitate Caymanas Park. Only a complete overhaul will suffice at this stage.
Let's be honest, Caymanas Park (that is, the plant) is now and has been for a long time a reflection of the various social maladies afflicting life in Jamaica. The track is surrounded by a number of challenged communities which makes it a security a nightmare. The general appearance of the plant, in the view of this writer, is beyond repair. The pride is gone. Stables are an eyesore, roads need rehabilitation and the general cleanliness usually associated with any well-run and operated racetrack is simply not there. Owners think thrice before they take family members to visit the racetrack to view their horses on a Sunday.
The promoters of racing simply do not have the money to make the changes necessary and Mr Dalley should recognise this incontrovertible fact. Investors are not exactly brimming with enthusiasm to cough up millions to promote horse-racing and to renovate the plant. The only investors really interested in buying Caymanas Park are housing developers who only see approximately 200 acres of land where they can build low-income houses.
We all know the ills besetting racing. But what is/are the solution(s)? Is there a panacea? Given the present unsightly spectacle of Caymanas Park, the only logical solution is to build a new racetrack. Start anew with private ownership and promotion, the same track size, new stable area administered by strict rules, for example, no hanging of cloth, etc on stable fences, and stands more befitting a clientele, which have never abandoned the industry.
Government as the owner of the racing plant should seriously seek and consider bids, local and foreign, for the building of a new racetrack. Give incentives, including tax allowances to the successful bidder in order to once and for all, elevate racing to its true status of a leading employer of labour in the country. Package the deal properly, detailing the requirements, incentives and invite the bidders. If this process is successful, the government could then convert the present Caymanas Park into a multi-purpose stadium for the people of Portmore or sell the land to the housing developers... the former is preferred. If this is not possible, in the long run, racing will face an almost certain doom.
Naturally the question is where to build the new racetrack? This writer prefers the new racetrack to be as close as possible to Kingston and Portmore to benefit from a larger population spread and the love for racing in these areas which has been generated and developed over the last 50 years. So then where? Just a thought, what about where the racetrack was originally to be built, on the Caymanas Estate somewhere between the present Polo Club and the Ferry Police Station. This area, according to reports from the past, was not chosen as it was deemed to be a space of too much rainfall. Given the new technologies that currently exist and a good sand track as at present location, rain should not be a problem anymore.
This is but a suggestion. Wherever the place that is eventually chosen, the hard cold fact is that the present plant has to be replaced and quickly too if racing is to retain its profitability, rebrand itself, gain further sponsorship and glory.