KINGSTON, Jamaica - Patrick Smellie was recently elected as the president of the United Racehorse Trainers’ Association of Jamaica (URTAJ). As a conditioner for many years, Smellie shares his time in racing, and his new role as the leader of the trainers.
PATRICK SMELLIE (PS)
Q: Take us on the journey that led you into the racing industry?
PS: I grew up in Patrick City and as a boy, and there was a little ‘jockey’ running up and down the road by the name of Elvis Murray. He lived up the road from me, which is Patrick Drive and then I became a little interested in the game because my grandmother was always sending me to the betting shop to buy horses, and incidentally, she was a Christian. When I met Murray, we did some construction at the stables of Eileen Cliggott, and we got to be around horses and we got to love them. We had chats with Mrs Cliggott, Gary Williams, ‘Chronicle’ Wilson and then eventually we started to visit the racetrack where we met Fernando Geddes, and Patrick Fong and that was where our racing interest deepened to this day.
Q: You started out as an owner, which horse was your first winner?
PS: The first horse we owned was a horse named Damocles who Murray rode and won for trainer Patrick Fong.
Q: When did you start training horses?
PS: I got my trainer’s licence in 2009, the year we won the Derby with He’s Really OK. I had a trainer assisting me back then, Frederick Watson. It was a good feeling, we had a good team around us – ‘Penna’, ‘Nanny’, and ‘Cass’. We had a good team and we won a couple of races well for the next couple of years. Then the feeling of racing was good, which is not the case at present, not with the present dispensation of how things are going at the track. But we are hoping for a return in the future to get back there because I know that Supreme Ventures has people at the top that want to grow racing and will grow racing, but they must understand that they have to take the stakeholders along with with them.
Q: Which horse was your first winner as a trainer?
PS: My first winner as a trainer was with Beautiful Space. She was a very nice horse and it was Elvis Murray who won on her beating a horse from the Wayne DaCosta stables, I think it was a trophy race as well. Plus, talking about the first winner, we gave our apprentice Ruja Lahoe his first winner.
Q: Which is the best horse you have owned/trained?
PS: Well, I basically trained all the horses for myself; it’s only Don Wehby that we had one or two horses for. The horse that stands out the most would have to be Ok Don; he won the Toyota Cup; he won the 1999 - 2000 Guineas and a couple of races with Murray. Ok Don was a joy. He’s Really OK was also a good horse but he had a chipped bone in his knee, so his career was cut short. We never got to see the true worth of He’s Really OK.
Q: What is your main role as president of the URTAJ?
PS: The URTAJ is here to galvanise the trainers and give them hope so we can try and change the culture at Caymanas Park, so we can work with the promoter and hopefully the promoter will work with us and we can have a better racing product where we can get more interest in the game again and start buying some horses and putting out some horses.
Q: Apart from training horses and being the president of URTAJ, do you have any other job?
PS: I run a construction business and that’s where I spend most of my time. I run Fycor Construction and Jatlin Construction. We do houses and roads and we even did some work at Caymanas Park I am always willing to give them free advice whenever they need it.
Q: How do you manage so many tasks at once?
PS: I have been doing it since I was about 25 years old, so it is not hard to run the construction company and come in with the training and those things. It is difficult but it is not insurmountable.
Q: Which is the best horse you have seen race at Caymanas Park?
PS: There was Eros and there was She’s A Maneater to name a few but it will be between those two horses. At present, there is a youngster with a tremendous turn of foot that I have not seen in years and that one is Blue Vinyl. I am watching him closely as he won the 2000 Guineas and there is Atomica who we have not seen the likes of her since She’s A Maneater. There are some very interesting and exciting horses now that we waiting to see how they develop and what they will achieve in the future.
Q: Do you have any regrets coming into the racing industry?
PS: Not at all, no regrets. I enjoyed it. I have enjoyed it immensely; I have met many friends, I mean, Murray, and I go back 50 years. I have gained immense knowledge over the years, from every single groom, and trainer that I have spoken to over the years. Caymanas Park is a university by itself.