Reflections on a spectator-less race day

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Dr Sophia Ramlal

KINGSTON, Jamaica – It was a day (Tuesday, March 17, 2020), which drew mixed emotions from diverse sections of trainers and other racing personnel. Racing at Caymanas Park without spectators for the first time due to the coronavirus global pandemic was unique. Racing professionals give their thoughts.

ALFORD BROWN – TRAINER

“This historic day in racing at Caymanas Park is a strange occurrence. It is bizarre without punters, but the promoters have to do what they have to do to protect all of us, which is right. So far, I hope that it is working out for the punters as there might be no racing for another week or two without punters because you must be aware that they have to be on top of this coronavirus thing until it settles itself. Right now, we are just going by the rules, living by protocol, doing everything we are instructed to do, and hope that it works out for everybody, that is, the trainers, jockeys, grooms, and, especially, owners but most of all the promoters. They are the ones who are looking to ensuring that all remain employed while making the show by keeping us all active with the introduction of stringent health measures. We have to commend them [the promoter] along with the Jamaica Racing Commission and those who work with them so that both man and animal remain in a healthy environment to carry on.”

DR SOPHIA RAMLAL – VETERINARIAN

“We are doing what the rest of the world is doing. We’ve had the benefit of watching what the rest of the world has done, so we have been able to learn for other racing jurisdictions. We have to be careful, and we also have to be measured and look out for the stakeholders’ interests and the horses’ interests. We are in abnormal times, and we are doing abnormal things, and in another lifetime, we will hope not to see this again. But it is a learning experience for all, and hopefully, now the contingencies can be put in place to mitigate against any such occurrence as COVID-19 in the future. This coronavirus situation has taught us to think on our feet and learn how to be flexible and how to practice better hygiene. It is a learning activity as much as it has disrupted normal life operations. We need to know more, and we become more resilient in learning more. We will learn how to work with what we can and what we have.

“There are two catchwords in hand at this time – hygiene and social distancing. Hand hygiene should have been taught before, so we are just taking it up a notch in our personal lives. We will learn how to conserve things more and to be circumspect in how we do things.”

IAN PARSARD – TRAINER

“The day was profound. It was a historic day considering that there were no spectators present, and the void that it left seemed to have created an extremely strange feeling. For when I came in and was not being able to go to the regular spots to watch the races, the absence of the crowd, the noise, the excitement which quite frankly is what the sport is about were all absent, but it was necessary. We are in a global pandemic, and therefore the well-being of every Jamaican citizen has to be first and foremost; there are no two ways about it. So the measures that have been taken are in keeping with the health protocols to protect the general population and is going to be at a cost, and in racing, the promoter seems to be the one who is going to bear the brunt of that cost. The racing industry goes far and wide, and if we were to look at a complete shutdown for an extended period, it is going to have a devastating impact on an already fragile industry. It is just the ticking over, the turnover of cash to keep the industry going. I will shudder if the industry was to close down for let us say, six to eight weeks, it will have a devastating impact. How we balance all these things is a challenge because I am sure the promoting company is going to come under pressure. The other route of closing down entirely is going to impact thousands and thousands of people. In this scenario, the owners are going to feel it most as they have the horses, and they must continue to pay some amount for the keep and care of the animals. Another suggestion, a lot of the horses may have to go to the farms. That may happen, but there is not sufficient space on the various farms to accommodate over 1,000 horses adequately. So, my personal view is that 10 per cent of the horses to a farm but not the vast majority. It is a considerable challenge, and which way we go is left to be seen.”