THE CORONAVIRUS PANDEMIC — THE SHUTDOWN OF OPERATIONS AT CAYMANAS PARK
The racing industry was not spared the wrath of the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Soon after the first official case of COVID-19 was announced by the authorities on March 10, it took less than two weeks for racing to be shut down on March 21.
The Betting Gaming and Lotteries Commission (BGLC) on March 17 released a notice that “all gaming lounges, betting shops and bars with gambling machines must close”, effectively shutting down the off-track betting (OTB) network of horse racing’s promoting company Supreme Ventures Racing and Entertainment Limited (SVREL). SVREL, in cooperation with the BGLC and the other relevant authorities, immediately shut down operations as per the Disaster Risk Management Declaration of Disaster Order 2020.
The shutdown brought untold hardship to the professional groups in racing, inclusive of grooms, jockeys, trainers, farriers, exercise riders among others. Communities close to the racetrack like Gregory Park, Christian Pen, among others, suffered from the shutdown as their livelihoods are closely connected to horse racing. Owners bore the blunt of the racetrack closure as horses still had to be fed, cared for and they still had to exercise.
THE RETURN OF HORSE RACING AT CAYMANAS PARK
After a three-month break due to the continuing spread of the novel coronavirus, horse racing retuned to Caymanas Park on Saturday, June 20.
SVREL had to make several changes and health and security initiatives had to be put in place at the Park to ensure that the return of horse racing was done safely and within the parameters of health guidelines stipulated by Government.
The new measures included the mandatory wearing of masks, social distancing, frequent cleaning and disinfection of all areas and temperature checks upon entry. Entry to Caymanas Park was only allowed through one gate.
HORSE RACING WITHOUT SPECTATORS AT CAYMANAS PARK — A FIRST
History was created at Caymanas Park on March 14, as it was that day, the first time in the annals of racing that a race meeting took place without spectators being present. Racing at Caymanas Park started in August of 1959. This move to run races without spectators was made in response to the presence of the novel coronavirus outbreak in Jamaica. Only licensed professionals (jockeys, trainers, grooms, assistant trainers, and jockeys’ agents), along with racing officials from the Jamaica Racing Commission, the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Commission, and SVREL, were allowed access to the racetrack. Owners, although licensed, were not permitted to enter. No betting took place at Caymanas Park, but punters were able to place their wagers at the over 100 OTBs spread across the island and on the SVREL online MBet platform.
CHANGES IN CLASSIC RACE STRUCTURE
The pandemic brought about some major changes on the racing calendar. The traditional races like the Governor’s Cup, the Caribbean Sprint and the Superstakes were not run, plus it was known that the Diamond Mile had come to an end.
With the restart of racing in June, the double whammy of Saturday and Sunday racing became the norm as the traditional Wednesday racing meets were tossed aside.
There was a major change in the order of the Classic races. In the past the order was set at 1000 and 2000 Guineas, followed by the Oaks, the Derby and last the St Leger.
In 2020, the St Leger shifted place with the Derby and in 2021, the running order now reads the Oaks, the 1000/2000 Guineas, the St Leger and then the culmination with the Derby.
THE INTRODUCTION OF THE REGGAE-6 EXOTIC WAGER
During 2020, SVREL introduced the Reggae-6 exotic wager to replace the Sunrise-6. The Reggae-6 with its guaranteed jackpot of $2 million plus its carryovers quickly became the bet of choice for punters.
From early after the Reggae-6 was introduced punters flocked to the betting windows and soon we started to see consistent pools of over $5.5 million. In December, with a mandatory payment in effect the pool reached $11 million.
This innovative betting option has been a success and the hope now is for other innovations to be given to punters by the promoting company.
JOCKEYS’ CHAMPIONSHIP — JOINT CHAMPIONS AFTER BIZARRE TWIST
The 2020 jockeys’ championship title involving Dane Nelson and Anthony Thomas was set for a grand finale on the last two race days of the year, Saturday, December 26 and Sunday, December 27.
Nelson rode Stanislaus to victory on December 23 to pull level with Thomas on 84 winners, setting up what was expected to be an exciting battle.
Then the unexpected happened, both Nelson and Thomas were missing from competition for the weekend race meets of December 26-27 resulting in the championship being tied.
Thomas had contracted food poisoning, while Nelson was reported to be nursing a groin injury which he sustained from falling from one of his mounts on December 23.
It was not the first occasion in the 61-year of Caymanas Park that the jockeys’ race ended up in a tie. In 1970, Richard DePass and Jose Bravo tied on 53 wins each, with DePass winning the last race of the year to reach 53 wins.
CAYMANAS PARK BECOMES A TRACK FOR SPRINTERS
The year that was 2020 saw a massive shift by SVREL in the distance of races offered to trainers.
The throwing out of primarily the Governor’s Cup, the Prime Minister’s Stakes, the Superstakes, and the Governor General Stakes meant that trainers and owners with horses favouring the longer distances, especially, two-turns were left in the lurch. More and more, and it continues in 2021, we are seeing three, four, five and 5 ½ furlongs races. The only two-turn distance which has captured the attention of the promoter is the nine furlongs and 25 yards offering. So, the logical deduction and it is clear, the promoting company does better at the tote with the shorter distances, where more of the depleted racing and hurting stock can take part.
NIPSTER COMES OF AGE
In the defining run of his career, Nipster staked a solid claim for Horse of the Year honours after winning the 8 ½-furlong Ian Levy Cup, an Open Allowance/Graded Stakes on Saturday, December 26, 2020.
After changing trainers in March, Nipster, now under the care of Gary Subratie proceeded to make rapid improvement after after finishing behind stablemate Wow Wow in the 2000 Guineas.
Nipster, who throughout his career has played second fiddle to the precocious Wow Wow, then won the St Leger and then unluckily finished second in the Derby behind King Arthur.
Nipster moved on to the higher ground of Open Allowance/Graded Stakes and his true worth and class came to the fore.
Nipster’s (Casual Trick – Nippit) crowning moment came in the aforementioned Ian Levy Cup. Nipster is a strong candidate for Horse of the Year honours.
RYAN DARBY’S 400th CAREER WIN
Trainer Ryan Darby earned his 400th victory as a conditioner when his charge Papa Albert won the third race on December 23. Ridden by jockey Omar Walker, Papa Albert made one move to beat stable companion Sharp Skirt by 5 ½ lengths over the five furlongs (1,000m) straight. Darby thus became the 24th trainer to win 400 or more races in the history of racing in Jamaica.
10. RETIREMENT OF CHRIS ARMOND, RETURN OF DENZIL MILLER
On December 31, 2020, racing icon, the man who has been associated with horse racing as a commentator, and administrator for over 40 years officially retired as the director of racing at SVREL.
In an emotional farewell on Sunday, December 27, Christopher Joseph Armond said goodbye to racing. December 27, 2020 was also the day when the Chris Armond Sprint was run. That inaugural trophy race was won by Trevor’s Choice.
Armond whose administrative skills was also extended to the wider Caribbean is credited with introducing many new initiatives over many years to enhance the racing product and betting opportunities.
Following the retirement of Armond, SVREL officially announced the appointment of Denzil Miller as racing secretary. Miller sat in the same position just over two years ago before leaving the promoting company. He started his new shift on Monday, January 4.
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