HALLEDEEN...the Jockeys' Guild believes there needs to be further dialogue before a lockdown or any strike action which we believe should only be a last resort
Jockeys' Guild President Robert Halledeen urges more dialogue but backs trainers, owners in purse dispute

WHILE declaring their intention to stand with the trainers and other horsemen should they decide to follow through on not nominating horses today, president of the Jockeys' Guild of Jamaica, Robert Halledeen is hoping good sense can prevail on all fronts in the ongoing purse dispute between promoting company Supreme Ventures Racing and Entertainment Limited (SVREL) and the horsemen.

Halledeen's opinion on the issue followed word that some trainers have threatened to withhold nominations for this weekend's racecards and beyond, after rejecting SVREL's offer to improve appearance fees instead of granting the $70-million purse increase requested in a recent communication.

The outspoken jockey and his peers are of the view that further dialogue should be had to at least attempt an amicable settlement.

“The Jockeys' Guild believes there needs to be further dialogue before a lockdown or any strike action — which we believe should only be a last resort. The industry and its leaders need to work together throughout to solve this problem and plan for the future,” Halledeen told this publication.

Ian Parsard, who was asked by the respective associations of owners, trainers, grooms, and jockeys to represent stakeholders in the negotiations, which started late last year, had expressed similar sentiments.

“The key is not this increase. The key is that we work together to develop a formula that links sales and purses; so that way, as we help the business to grow the horsemen will benefit,” Parsard said in a recent interview.

Still, it was argued that the request for the purse increase was necessary as the cost of caring for the horses has gone up since racing returned during the novel coronavirus pandemic in 2020.

Halledeen, sympathetic to the trainers' and owners' situation, concurred.

“We fully support the trainers asking for a purse increase, so we are 100 per cent behind them if all the trainers decide not to nominate,” Halledeen noted, adding that the promoting company should come up with a better offer.

SVREL, in their response letter on January 18, 2022, under the signature of General Manager Lorna Gooden, said they are committed to working towards a fulsome solution for the benefit of the entire horse racing industry, and in that vein will be inclined to implement the following:

1. An increase in appearance fees totalling approximately $9 million. This will be applied to losing race placement for 7th- and lower-place finishes;

2. The increase will be tiered based on the level of purse to ensure that there is no anomaly for payments to 5th – 6th places;

3. This will be effective February 1, 2022;

4. A proposed committee, consisting of reps from SVREL and the stakeholders, to craft and agree to a formula linking purses to movements in revenue and costs as per the MOU [memorandum of understanding] signed in May 11, 2022.

This, Halledeen pointed out, is unacceptable.

“It came from 25 per cent down to 10 per cent so SVREL needs to do better,” Halledeen stated.

He continued: “For example, the cheapest race is the $180,000 claimers; a horse that runs in that race would cost about $200,000 in care for a month. So let's say that horse wins the race and the purse is $600,000, there is nothing to be had when that is divided as it is now so trainers and owners are operating at a loss. Especially now with things going up for horses, I feel what the trainers and owners are saying, and we just hope that the promoting company will put something more reasonable on the table.“

However, Halledeen explained that if all trainers and others are not in an agreement where withholding nominations are concerned, he and his peers stand ready to perform their duties.

“We work with the trainers and owners so if everybody is in support of the proposed action then we will be on board. But if not, then we have to show up to perform our duties because this is how we feed our families,” the man known as “Hardball” declared.

“We depend on race days to make a living because we don't get paid to exercise horses in the morning, so we are hoping they can go back to the table so there can be a resolution,” he ended.

BY SHERDON COWAN Observer staff reporter cowans@jamaicaobserver.com

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