HORSE IMPORT DRAMA
TEN horses that were expected to improve Jamaica’s racing bloodstock have been left grazing in the United States, waiting to be taken to their final destination after they were bought from Canada at a yearling sale last October.
The situation arose weeks ago after Jamaica’s Thoroughbred Owners and Breeders (TOBA), led by veteran horseman Howard Hamilton, was granted what was said to be a loan of approximately $20 million from the Government to import the horses for racing purposes. It is understood that a TOBA representative, with approval from the organisation’s leadership, bought the animals at the Woodbine Select Yearling Sale, and placed an advertisement in local horse racing publication Track and Pools, that the horses would be available to the membership of TOBA for purchasing at the annual Yearling Sale, held usually in November in St Catherine.
However, officials from the Veterinary Division of the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries saw the advert and proceeded to enquire how that could occur without TOBA getting permission from the Veterinary Division to bring in animals from Canada.
In an effort to reduce cost to Jamaica, TOBA decided to truck the horses from Canada to Florida, with the intention to send them by air from Florida to Jamaica within days. Jamaican veterinary authorities though, contacted their colleagues in Florida to clarify the matter of how they intended to send the horses to Jamaica without medical certification, at which point the Americans, who hitherto thought that the animals were native-bred, slapped a one-year ban on the horses, insisting that they must remain in the United States until October 2024, and be fully cleared of all medical challenges that may have set in.
Another move by TOBA officials to try to get the horses back to Canada and restart the process of getting the animals into Jamaica directly failed, as executives of the US Veterinary Department insisted that they must spend a year in their country before a release may be considered, in following certain veterinary principles.
Documentation in respect of shots and vaccines were not available, it emerged.
Local racing officials have determined that for the horses to be released by the Americans, it has to involve Jamaica’s Veterinary Services Division (VSD), which must assure their colleagues to the north that they would take full responsibility for them.
The horses — all fillies — are being kept at Ian Parsard’s farm in Ocala, central Florida. The Jamaica Observer understands that although Parsard is not charging TOBA to keep the animals in a particular space, daily feeding and caring expenses have to be met.
Chairman of the Jamaica Racing Commission and of the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Commission, retired banker Clovis Metcalfe, admitted to the Sunday Observer, that there was an issue with the importation of the horses, but referred the newspaper to Ainsley Walters, CEO of TOBA, for a fuller understanding of what took place.
“That is TOBA importing those horses, and they couldn’t come straight from Canada, so they had to go to the States and stay there for about a year,” Metcalfe said.
“It is understood that TOBA could not get a licence to import directly from Canada, so they should have checked that before. The horses are at Parsard’s farm now and they are trying to work with the Ministry of Agriculture’s Veterinary Division to see what sort of allowance can be given,” was all that Metcalfe would say.
Walters confirmed to the Sunday Observer that negotiations were continuing with TOBA and the agriculture ministry’s Veterinary Division to find a solution to the matter, and said that he would not want to say much that would prejudice those talks.
He said, however, that the horses that TOBA was bringing in had US health certificates, but “it is on that premise that the [Jamaican] vets are saying that it is a different protocol. You can’t bring in horses from Canada on US health certificates,” he stated.
Walters said that TOBA had all along thought that that was the legitimate way to import the horses, and argued that in the past, Canadian-bred horses had entered Jamaica in the same way.
“We wrote to the vets explaining to them that we thought they were doing the right thing, because there are other horses which came in via the same route,” Walters said.
TOBA had written to the Veterinary Division for it to forego the one-year domicile of the horses, a request that was turned down, the Sunday Observer understands.
“It is understood that [head of the Agriculture Ministry’s Veterinary Division] Dr [Osbil] Watson and his team are looking into the matter to see how best they can assist to ensure that the horses are brought into Jamaica, even if it takes three to four months. We are awaiting the VSD to say you are free to come into the country now,” Walters said.
During a presentation in the House of Representation earlier in 2023, Minister of Finance and the Public Service Dr Nigel Clarke announced, to broad approval by members of the horse racing fraternity, that General Consumption Tax would be removed from the importation of horses, in a bid to improve Jamaica’s horse racing pedigree. No GCT would be charged on the importation of small ruminants and pigs too, Dr Clarke said, as part of a July 19, 2023 GCT Order.
By November 1, 2023, the removal of GCT on horses took effect officially, upon the clearing of some tariff codes.
One veteran horseman told the Sunday Observer that the matter was “at a very delicate stage”, and TOBA was doing everything to ensure that there is no semblance of anyone trying to put pressure on the Veterinary Division in a bid to twist its arm, as that was not the case.
“An error has been made, and we are trying to correct that in the best possible way that would not hurt the industry,” said the individual, who has been involved in horse racing for over 45 years.
“How people imported Canada-bred horses over the years is, they purchase them, take them across the border into the US and then ship them from the USA to Jamaica. TOBA followed suit, only to find out that the Vet Services Division is saying that if you import horses from Canada, you must have Canadian-issued health certificates.
“It is possible that the vets believed that TOBA was trying to circumvent the protocol, but I do not believe that to be the case,” the veteran said.
There were few words on Saturday from Executive Chairman Gary Peart, whose parent organisation Supreme Ventures Ltd has overall responsibility for the company that runs horses racing at Caymanas Park – Supreme Ventures Racing and Entertainment Ltd (SVREL), chaired by another member of the horse racing fraternity, Solomon Sharpe.
“I am unaware of what you just asked me,” Peart said. “Maybe Solomon could assist you.”
Sharpe expressed the hope that everything will be done to get the horses into Jamaica, as the industry would be far better off with them.
“We need those 10 horses in Jamaica pretty much, so anything that can happen to make those 10 horses come to Jamaica, we would welcome. The industry is on an upward trajectory right now, and anything that can be done to improve it would be fully embraced by us at SVREL,” Sharpe said.
The Sunday Observer understands that no horses have been imported directly from Canada into Jamaica for several years, and it could not be determined whether or not the Veterinary Division had anything on its books to address that protocol, should direct importation be attempted, henceforth.