Horse racing in Guyana from 1940 to 1971
Leading turfite Lloyd Luckhoo looks back

Stabroek News
August 26, 2001

I left Guyana in 1984 to take up a post as legal consultant to the Government of Antigua and Barbuda. However, I returned to Georgetown from time to time and enjoyed driving down Homestretch Avenue (which was built on the homestretch of the D'Urban Park Race Course) and gazing up at the Grand Stand (which had been converted to a building housing a Government Ministry, especially at the Esso Commentator's Box from which I gave live radio commentaries for about 28 years until 1971.

It was a landmark, which hopefully would have remained for generations to come. But that was not to be. In June this year, I received a telephone call that the Grand Stand had been destroyed by fire. It was a Black Friday of which we have had many, and which have seen the destruction of historic buildings over more than half a century.

In the early 1940's. The winner Camberly in the foreground. In the middle is the parade ring and winners enclosure. In the background are the houses behind Hadfield Street, Lodge.

However, the Grand Stand will not rise again like a Phoenix from the ashes; not at the same site. It is time for a new modern racing complex to be built outside of the city but close to it.

After the fire, I decided to place on record my own recollection of the development of racing at D'Urban Park, especially from 1940 to 1971 when the government took over the race course for public purposes.

There are a few persons alive who will recall some of the events, which I will describe in these articles. I hope that all will find some interest in my memories. Fortunately, I have preserved hundreds of race programmes from race meetings, which I attended in Trinidad, Tobago and Barbados and in Guyana. These have been an aide memoire to assist in verifying the dates and events to which I will refer.

School days

I am 83 years old. As a youngster between 1918 to 1929 I lived in Coburg Street, New Amsterdam (where the Police Station now is). A short walk took me to the Back Dam where there was the racecourse of the Berbice Turf Club.

Naturally, as a boy, I found my way there at the race meetings. I recall finding a winning pari mutuel ticket, which had been thrown away. I cashed it for eight shillings, which was used towards purchasing a football. It was a windfall. At subsequent meetings I searched again but never struck gold.

Between 1929 and 1937 I attended Queen's College then at the top of Brickdam, in the building which now is a government ministry.

From the back of the stage on the top floor I had my introduction to D'Urban Park. I enjoyed watching as the horses galloped around the turn into the homestretch.

One day, I looked out for the arrival of a single engine aeroplane, which was due to land at D'Urban Park. I waited in vain. The aircraft never came, it had crashed on take off in Trinidad at the Piarco Airfield.

E.V. Luckhoo and Lloyd Luckhoo leading in a winner. The second stand is shown in the background.

Between 1937 and 1940 my brother Lionel (later Sir Lionel) and I were in London, where we were law students and kept in touch with horse racing. In June 1940, we returned to Guyana by ship at the height of World War II and joined our elder brother E.V.(later Sir Edward) in our law practice.

The story of First Luck

About July 1941 we bought our first horse. It was a two-year-old, which was unbroken and had not been fed on oats up to then. We bought it from the Kennard Stables, Bush Lot, Corentyne, Berbice. We paid for the colt $130 from the fees of a bush rum case. I selected the mare and she never let us down.

E.V. decided that he would train the horse.

First Luck was a half-breed. His sire was an American thoroughbred and his dam was a half-breed. Some cheap horses turn out to be money-spinners and many expensive purchases are flops.

It is the luck of the game. E.V. knew nothing about training at that time but as an amateur trainer he learnt steadily. He consulted experienced trainers and also used his own judgement.

First Luck had his first outing at Port Mourant at the Corentyne Race Club's August Meeting on Monday 3rd August, 1942. He ran green, but showed promise.

His next meeting was the big October Meeting at D'Urban Park. He was ridden by his favourite jockey Edgan Crossleg from the U.K. and started his winning career. He raced for seven years until 1949.

Horses were classified A, A2, B, B2, C, C2, D, D2, E, E2, F, F2, G, G2, H, H2.

Horses in a lower class received an allowance of five pounds for every sub class when racing with horses of a higher class, in weight for age races.

After every race meeting horses could be promoted or demoted.

First Luck climbed the ladder steadily after his initial victories. I would say that he reached his peak form when he took part in the Christmas Meeting 1944 at the Queen's Park Savannah, Port of Spain, Trinidad, the headquarters of racing in the Southern Caribbean. He ran six times in the first three days and placed a couple of times. His jockey, E. Sunich of Guyana admitted that he was unfamiliar with the track and tended to run wide at the home turn. He suggested a change of jockey. In his seventh start we secured a top Venezuelan jockey, Harris, and First Luck slaughtered the field of top class creole thoroughbreds from Trinidad and Barbados with over one mile and 130 yards in a time which was close to that set by the five time winner and Derby Winner, Jetsam.

Lionel Luckhoo and E.V. Luckhoo leading in First Luck.

After his Trinidad excursion First Luck returned to D'Urban Park and continued his scintillating form. He often raced twice a day with no ill effects and on one occasion when a race was rerun he faced the starter three times that day due to a false shout in one race. He was truly an iron horse.

He frequently carried the top weight of 147 lbs with success.

With subsequent experience we would never have raced him twice a day, so frequently.

However, he thrived on racing and sprinted and stayed well, winning at all distances.

Over the years First Luck defeated every horse racing at D'Urban Park in all classes from H2 to A class, a performance unequalled by any other horse that started from the bottom of the ladder.

The colt never went lame at any time in his career. He made one false step. In October 1949 at the big meeting, during a race, while making his bid at the three-furlong post he stumbled and fell. He had to be put down.

He died like a champion on the racecourse he loved.

He lived at all times in the No 1 stall in the paddock. He had two habits. On occasions he would come out of the paddock and stop at the gate leading to the track.

He looked at the track and would refuse to move until it pleased him to do so. He was lord of all he surveyed.

When he was at the peak of his training schedule he had a tendency to take a nip at his trainer or the groom. Then one would know that he was fighting fit.

From the facts within my knowledge and the records, which I have checked, I would rate First Luck as a freak half-breed and as the greatest and best forming half-breed of all times on the tracks of Trinidad, Barbados and Guyana.

At the end of his career his form read:

Approximate starts 133

First 33

Second 32

Placed 34

Prize money $33,000

The prize money was small in those days but the Guyana dollar was valued $4.80 to one pound sterling and about US$2, so that with inflation and devaluation taken into account the prize money was valuable.

First Luck was our foundation horse. We ploughed back his winnings as seed money to purchase top class creole thoroughbreds and imported thoroughbreds from Trinidad, Barbados, Jamaica and the U.K.

Our stables grew from one to ten at one time.

Dozens of horses were bought through our original $130 and the earnings of subsequent purchases.

My sister Ena and her husband Peter Byrne who was a vet also reared horses on their own.

Royal Race Meetings at D'Urban Park

The year 1966 was the year of our Independence.

The Grand Stand had deteriorated and the Demerara Turf Club made a determined effort to bring racing to its highest level.

The Grand Stand was restored and substantially rebuilt in time for the Royal Race Meeting in February 1966.

Many commercial businesses sponsored races and contributed to prize money.

A large number of 66 horses was entered for the Royal meeting which was held on 4, 5 and 12 February, 1966.

The background of Royal Racing in Guyana was printed in the programme and is set out below.

Royal racing in Guyana

Guyana has the proud record, it is understood, of being the only country in the world in which the Prince of Wales (in 1920) and Her Majesty the Queen (in 1966) have attended race meetings.

The following extract from the "Daily Chronicle" newspaper of the 26th September, 1920, describes in picturesque language the occasion, and the historic event attended by the Prince of Wales at Bel Air Park, which is just a short distance from D'Urban Park.

Despite the great setbacks of the recent past the wonderful sport of racing in Guyana now seems poised to soar to the greatest heights ever.

The extract reads:

"Prime interest was centred in the race for the Prince of Wales' Cup, which His Royal Highness invested with considerable importance by starting it. The Cup was presented by the Colony with $300 added from the fund. High hope was raised as to the probable winner, only to be cast to the winds soon afterwards, as calculation after calculation on the result was made, and men shivered as they backed a starter, so anxious were all owners, trainers, jockeys and backers - to court the Fates successfully, and enjoy the happy association of the Empire's favourite on a race named in his honour. Contrary to the general expectation, Mr Flood's Joe Brunner won, capably ridden by R Worrell, and in such comfortable style as to make the other starters most of whom were regarded as his superiors look like so many hacks. As a two-year-old, Joe Brunner did not reach a high standard; since then he has improved in convincing style, and it is safe to say that in him Mr Flood has a three-year-old of great promise. He proposes to race him in Barbados next February with a view to winning the gold cup offered. The best of good luck to a fine thoroughbred, and an owner a sport of sports. Mr Flood has in his time had honours crowded upon him on the race track; he has by his genial disposition and never failing good-humour endeared himself to Prince and peasant alike, and his winning of the Cup with a horse which repeated his victory over his rivals, thereby disposing of the whisper that it was a 'Fluke', has made him a favourite with the people whose popularity even if he ran but a single horse time will not dim."

The races had Royal names.

The Duke and the Duchess of Kent in the paddock for the Independence Race Meeting on 26 May, 1966, with Lloyd Luckhoo between them. To the right is Dr B.B. (Bunny) Mooksang, then president of the Demerara Turf Club.

The feature event of the first day for A class and under, over one mile and 100 yards was witnessed by Her Majesty the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh from the Royal Box. Her Majesty graciously permitted me to broadcast the race live from the Royal Box. This was the first time this had ever been done as far as I am aware.

A record crowd attended this meeting.

The feature race was sponsored by The Guyana Graphic and Overseas Newspapers Limited of London. A trophy donated by Pepsi Cola International was also presented.

The race was won in record time by Trinidad and Miss Claudette Joseph's Maid of Clantoy ridden by C. Wallenor Jones, champion jockey from Barbados. The second was from my stable, No Dope ridden by D. Lutchman a Trinidadian jockey, and third Dr N. Rahaman's Hitam Kuda ridden by B. Naidoo, a Guyanese jockey. So this, the most important race ever run at our little D'Urban Park, was an intercolonial event.

Independence Race Meeting

The Royal Race Meeting was followed by the Independence Race Meeting, which was the second biggest meeting ever held at D'Urban Park. The dates were Thursday 26 May (Independence Day) 28th May and 30th May.

The feature event for the Banks Breweries Limited stakes and the Prime Minister's Trophy over one mile at 100 yards was won by my stable's imported filly Bridego ridden by J. Belle, and this completed a double win for Bridego and Belle as she had won earlier that day at six furlongs.

Her Royal Highness, The Duchess of Kent attended the races and the Royal Box was once again in use. The Duchess of Kent presented the trophy.

Prime Minister, Linden Forbes Burnham attended and witnessed these races on this special occasion.

Between 1941 and 1951 there were three main meetings every year.

The New Year Meeting in February was over three days.

The track was sometimes firm or on occasions very heavy. Sometimes I could even "smell" the mud from my broadcast booth.

The second meeting of the year was usually a four-day meeting in May month. As Guyana rarely misses the "May/June rains" a soft track could usually be expected.

This pattern continued for a decade.

1951 Christmas Meeting

In Christmas 1951 the Club tried a Christmas meeting which was always so successful in Trinidad.

It did not take on in British Guiana.

The people enjoyed their Christmas festivities so much that they were not inclined to support the meeting.

An Easter meeting was also scheduled without success. The crowds preferred kite flying at that time of the year.

Sunday Meetings

In March 1967 the Club introduced Sunday racing.

This was even before Sunday Racing was started in England.

The trial was an immediate success.

Regular Sunday meetings were held in all months of the year and replaced permanently the traditional race meetings of February, June and October.

A Sunday afternoon at the races soon became the popular habit of the racing community for the last four years of the Club's activities from 1967 to the last Meeting that I can trace on Sunday 6th June 1971.

Sunday meetings were a great success, and another "first" for D'Urban Park in this part of the Caribbean, with links to Great Britain.

Goodbye to racing at D'Urban Park

In 1971 the Government of Guyana took over D'Urban Park and its structures for public purposes.

Government gave the Club a lease of land near Timehri. The land was too far from Georgetown to be suitable for racing. The Club in any event had no funds to build a modern racing complex at that location.

In the result racing ceased at D'Urban park forever.

Government took over the stands for a modest compensation and converted the buildings for use as ministries.

A highway was built on the two furlong and 100 yards homestretch, and called "Homestretch Avenue."

Horse racing will never be revived again at D'Urban Park.

For my part, I enjoyed taking part in the development of D'Urban Park for about 30 years.

I served as Vice President and Director of the Club for many years. I have also been elected a Steward of the Club, a Steward at various meetings, and a handicapper and classifier.

Now it is time to move on.

The future

The younger generation must take over the reins.

Racing has plodded along in haphazard fashion in this country in recent times.

The standard is poor.

A modern racing complex within easy reach of the city must be planned.

Fresh bloodstock must be introduced.

Betting shops must co-operate in the development.

The complex may even include a Casino as is done in some tracks in the United States of America.

I do not know whether this will be achieved in my lifetime but I hope and pray that it will be.

In the meanwhile it has been a joy to place on record my reflections on D'Urban Park.

Long live the memories of those glorious days of racing.