The real problem in saving live horse racing in Jamaica — no teamwork!
Jeffery Mordecai

Editor's note: The following article was submitted by owner and breeder, Jeffrey Mordecai. Mordecai is also an attorney-at-law.

Government's running of the horse racing industry in Jamaica for many decades was a disaster happening right in front of our eyes and getting progressively worse.

We, who love the sport, largely ignored the reality because of the hundreds of thousands of Jamaicans directly and indirectly involved in and benefiting from the industry, who we thought it was government's responsibility to protect.

It took the much maligned International Monetary Fund (IMF) to introduce reality to the Jamaican Government of the day and say "NO MAS"!!

The reason was obvious though unpleasant; live horse racing in Jamaica must either survive as a profitable private sector-led business or "heaven forbid", not survive at all.

"Divestment" became the buzzword (for the second time) and two candidates emerged:

1. Supreme Ventures Limited (SVL) as the sole private sector-led contender,

2. Selected racing stakeholders brought together solely for the purpose of their divestment bid.

Government made the obvious and correct choice by selecting SVL, who ran the racetrack through Supreme Ventures Racing & Entertainment (SVREL).

Quite remarkably the operation of the racetrack by SVL's commercial subsidiary SVREL was soon led by the leader of the failed stakeholder's bid; himself a stakeholder and private sector leader. Following that trend, the current leader of SVREL is also a stakeholder and a private sector leader.

This introduction is necessary to make the point that SVREL has attempted to combine three necessary ingredients to the survival of the live horse racing industry in Jamaica:

1. Private sector funding, through SVL,

2. Private sector-led competence and experience, and

3. Stakeholder led contributions, to provide competence and experience in live horse racing.

Those stakeholders who are currently dissatisfied with SVREL's stewardship of the Jamaican racing industry must take into account that what is at stake is the very survival of the live segment of the racing industry.

SVL/SVREL replaced Government and is attempting to introduce private sector principles like profitability and fiscal and financial prudence, given that no further "bailouts" are possible from SVL shareholders who have no interest in their money going up in "smoke".

Do the current stakeholders remember the multiple $50,000,000 "bailouts" by the Government to alleviate the late payment of purses in the period prior to the IMF's dictate to divest? That was taxpayer's money that went up in "smoke" because the racing industry was "insanely" expecting improved results by doing the same thing.

Do the current stakeholders remember that there was a private sector loan company which set up "shop" at the racetrack to loan stakeholders money to "tide them over" until purses were paid weeks later?

I'm sure by now the reader has "sucked their teeth" and dismissed me as a SVL/SVREL stooge with a hidden agenda. However, it is my view that the only possible and available formula for the survival of live horse racing in Jamaica in the 21st century is a mutually beneficial partnership between the private sector (SVL/SVREL) and racing stakeholders.

Current stakeholders must move away from the 20th-century norm of Government running racing and "bailouts" designed to avoid political embarrassment to the political party in government.

The 21st-century reality is that Government (green or orange) cannot profitably run racing and unprofitable racing will mean the end of live racing at Caymanas Park!

However, it is clear, to me, that this obvious lesson has not been learned by the current leadership of the racing stakeholders. At a recent public meeting (see clip on YouTube) involving SVREL and racing stakeholders, a leader of the stakeholders made the following contribution; If you don't have the money to pay the purse increase we are asking for, "Go to the Government", he even mentioned "extra taxation"!

Do you now better understand the IMF's 21st-century dictate "No Mas" designed to cure the excesses of 20th-century leadership?

My intention is not to disparage the 20th-century leadership of this 21st-century industry. It is my intention to invite those younger members of the stakeholders who are faced with 21st-century problems to not only identify 21st-century solutions but to participate in 21st-century problem-solving and save live horse racing in Jamaica.

In my opinion, the only current option is a new realistic partnership between SVREL (led by a stakeholder (owner/trainer)) and stakeholders. The 2022 agreement was a start by negotiating for the first time a formula linking sales to purses.

That agreement required a partnership to succeed but both sides failed to deliver:

1. SVREL should have provided a flow of confidential sales information to trusted stakeholders to initiate and encourage informal consultations to find creative ways to increase sponsorship and sales. SVREL should have paid the increased purses due under the new formula as soon as they became due; instead of awaiting BG&L's unbelievably slow and clumsy attempt at problem solving.

2. The stakeholders allowed parties not involved in negotiating or signing the agreement ("Go to the Government") to demand from SVREL more than was due under the Agreement, and then (wait for it) threaten "strike" and lead a withdrawal of nominations, thereby reducing sales and purses! The stakeholders also as a body "exhaled" after the 2022 agreement and failed as a group to attract new sponsors and stakeholders into racing, wrongly, in my view, thinking this is solely SVREL's job.

The new realistic 2023 partnership that I propose be urgently agreed would have four main benefits.

Firstly, both sides can look back and admit and correct previous mistakes; the 2022 agreement allows for and encourages further and regular consultations between its signatories. In my view the 2022 agreement is not null and void as between the signatories.

Secondly, if both sides form a unified negotiating team they can approach both Government and private sector for commercial support (not "bailouts"), designed to benefit both Government (increased taxes and employment opportunities) and the private sector (marketing and promotional opportunities associated with the most popular year round sport in Jamaica).

Thirdly, and most importantly, agree and implement a specific and predictable annual timetable for tracking sales and annually adjusting purses on a specific date (say May 1st) and introduce a collective and cooperative effort to avoid the unscheduled interruptions ("strikes") that so often frustrate the industry.

Fourthly involve in the new partnership, the "titans" of the private sector and the government sector, who are deeply involved in their stakeholders role, but do not seem to be deeply involved in bringing this industry in the 21st century, leaving the path clear for those who say "Go to the Government"!

I hope that both SVREL, led by a stakeholder, and the stakeholders will by forming the partnership adopt JFK's vital instruction and 'Ask what you can do for the live racing industry to survive and thrive in Jamaica'.

If both SVREL and stakeholders formalise such a commercial partnership, there is hope, if not live racing at Caymanas Park may not survive and one of Jamaicans biggest passions will be lost forever.

Jeffrey S Mordecai

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