Sports

MARK COLLINS – The swimming groom

BY RUDDY ALLEN
Observer staff reporter

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

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Grooming a horse is an arduous task. When one adds swimming to grooming then it is clear that the person conducting those tasks is of a special variety.

One such individual is Mark Collins who has been swimming and grooming horses for many years at Caymanas Park.

Collins spoke with this publication and revealed the way he manages to both groom and deal with swimming horses.

SUPREME RACING GUIDE - ( SRG)

MARK COLLINS - ( MC)

SRG: Tell us about your background?

MC: I was born in Jones Town in Kingston. I grew up in Fletcher's Land and then I came to Gregory Park in St Catherine where I currently live. I came to Gregory Park around 1979 and you know, Gregory Park is where Caymanas Park is and so it was there I ended up all the time. From I came here, it was just Caymanas Park I knew and so it was easy for me to get into the sport as it was just walking distance from where I live. Going to the racetrack was something that I liked and I got attached to the sport so much that I decided to take up horse racing as my work to feed my family and myself. That was so many years ago, I can't even remember, but I am good and getting by and still enjoying my time in racing.

SRG: How did you start grooming horses?

MC: Being so close to the track and thing, I got to like the whole idea of horse racing and stuff, but I did want to become a jockey at first and that didn't work out for me because, as you know, the problem is catching the weight. After that, I then started to swim horses with Patrick Fong before he became a trainer and that led me to become a groom. Up till this day, I am still swimming horses as well as grooming horses. I got my groom's licence in 1998 and I groomed horses at the stables of trainers Richard Azan, Fitzroy Glispie as well as Gresford Smith. I also worked with Patrick Fong as well, but right now I am working with Borris McIntosh.

SRG: Which horse was your first winner?

MC: My first winner was with a horse by the name of French Bill. Allen “Bongo John” Maragh was the jockey and he rode a wonderful race that day going over the five-furlong (1,000m) straight. I was working at Richard Azan's stables at that time.

SRG: What was the feeling like when you won your first race?

MC: I was very happy with my first win knowing that my hard work really got me a winner and it was then I wanted to work harder and harder, as when you win a race you get more money. The first win of anyone's career one is going to feel good whether it is at the claiming level or the Stakes level. That first win is always going to be special and I was very happy when I got off the mark. I carry on to win many more races at each barn I worked at. I have never won a Classic race in my career so far, but I am happy and grateful for the races I have won.

SRG: What is the biggest race you have won?

MC: Well, I have won some very nice races. I won the 2002 Digicel Irish Jamaican Stakes with Neftenga. I won the Supreme Ventures Limited Just Bet Dash with Jaylen in 2010 and also the 2009 Ricochet Cup with Ms Angelica. I have also won big races with Live Water and Blue Marlin as well. There are some other big races though, but I can't remember every one of them at this time.

SRG: Which is the best horse you have groomed?

MC: The best horse I have groomed, I would say is Neftenga. He was a brilliant racehorse, he was very consistent and he would give you his best at all time. Neftenga gave me a lot of joy, whole heap a joy.

SRG: What would you say is your greatest achievement to date?

MC: Apart from winning some Grade One races, I would say that when I got an award for my hard work and service for swimming horses. This [swimming horses] is not something which is easy. It tuff, very tuff and you have to be patient and have the skill, it takes time and a lot of effort to swim horses. That day when I got the award, I was so happy because the dedication I put towards the industry, I got recognition for. It was last year.

SRG: How do you cope with grooming and swimming horses?

MC: Well, what I can tell you is that it is hard work, really hard work, but I enjoy what I am doing. If I didn't love my work, I wouldn't be doing it. The hours are long and tiring but guess what, it is something I enjoy doing and that keeps me going.


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