IT is always a good time when new faces are infused into racing. The recent graduation of some 19 new apprentices from the Jamaica Racing Commission's (JRC) Jockey Training School was greeted well and with a lot of enthusiasm.
These lads, who will officially begin their riding careers in September, provide trainers, especially, with new options to explore and it has the effect of boosting interest in a somewhat flagging sport. Punters follow the fortunes of these apprentices with rapt attention; never afraid to engage in robust discussions as to who is the best of the lot. Opinions will differ, but the various merits and demerits of each rider continue until most have ridden winners or lose their weight allowances, or 'bug' as it is more often referred to in racing circles. Hopefully, the on-track rivalry continues until there is combat for a jockey's championship.
On the flip side of the equation, one or two of these apprentices will find the going rough with winners a rare commodity. One can never forget when several years ago Peter Bryan graduated from the programme and was the last of his lot to ride a winner. Week after week punters at the track willed him on, but to no avail. When he finally entered the winners' enclosure it was mass celebration at the park more reminiscent of the legendary clashes between George HoSang and Emilio Rodriquez.
In the past, some of these apprentices have flattered only to deceive, while others usually considered to be part of the chosen few have gone on to be technically sound and respected riders. The Jamaica Racing Commission (JRC) has done well in preparing these riders. It is noted that the great, and probably the most loved jockey ever to ride at the park, Emilio Rodriquez, was part of the staff which tended and schooled the lads. The courses of instruction, while of necessity, were mainly slanted to proper race riding also included horse anatomy and etiquette — two important elements in the development of young riders. The effort by the JRC is applauded.
The JRC has training programmes for riders and trainers, but what of the grooms? These unsung and sometimes abused heroes of racing usually learn their trade on the job. A young boy either with an innate love for the sport or seeking a way of learning a trade and earning much-needed funds for himself, and in a lot of cases his family, fend his way to track where he becomes an apprentice with an established groom. Over time he learns his craft and elevates himself to the position of registered groom. This is usually a lengthy process, fraught with intrigue and sometimes danger, and it is a period during which he earns mostly at the behest of his 'father groom' or apprentice master.
Maybe it is time the JRC develops a more structured approach for the development of grooms. The courses of instructions will never be the same as for riders and trainers. Given the norm at the track some of these potential grooms will have to engage in literacy classes. Nothing is wrong with that. Add some etiquette, some physiology of the horse, proper horse care, and whatever else, we may begin to produce grooms with a better appreciation for their main source of income, the horse. The possibilities are untold, as with better knowledge and better care there can be an increase in the number of race starts by horses and more earnings for all concerned.
Just a thought, what do you think Mr Linton Walters, Mrs Ruth-Anne Smith-Sutherland, Mr Lloyd Cobran, and Dr St Aubyn Bartlett?