Decline in horse racing on fast track - experts
Call for independent authority
By Steve Ninvalle
February 7, 2004
Lack of proper regulations and non-enforcement of existing ones will see the death of horse-racing in Guyana, some owners and breeders feel.
Race horse owner and breeder Colin Elcock, Roy Hanoman, who has been a follower of the sport for some 40 years and Attorney-at-Law Marcel Crawford who has been around racing for 56 years feel horse racing in Guyana is at its lowest point ever.
The three, who among them have 115 years in the business, say the sport began to decline since the dismantling of the Demerara Turf Club 31 years ago.
Now under the guidance of the Guyana Horse Racing Authority (GHRA), horse racing has been labelled `gymkhana' by experts. Cheating, lack of interest and doping allegations have been hurled at the sport. In defence, President of the GHRA Cecil Kennard says his organisation is doing all it can.
Citing some of the GHRA's achievements Kennard said: "One of the important things that we were able to achieve is properly clad jockeys who wear protective gear. Also there has not been a clash of racing dates in some time. And the classifications have been going on well. We are trying. We still have a far way to go. If the clubs come together we would be able to ensure that racing is done on a proper setting with proper standards."
Showing off the stud: Horse owner Colin Elcock (right) is on the verge of showing off one of his champion studs to a race horse enthusiast R. A. Welch at his breeding farm at #13 Village, Hermitage, Corentyne.
On the downside, Kennard said, stud owners never comply with the request of the GHRA to keep proper stud books. Quizzed whether the GHRA penalises offenders, Kennard answered in the negative. "The reason being, it was decided that because this thing was at a stage of infancy we should encourage owners to comply instead of penalising.
"Last year, because of non-cooperation from some of the clubs things did not go too well. We are trying," Kennard stressed.
Elcock believes Guyana could be the Mecca of breeding in the Caribbean if the proper measures are put in place by the relevant authorities. But for the time being, he and other breeders will have to deal with the reality of breeding horses that will only be allowed to race in Guyana.
Elcock says horses born in Guyana have no proper documentation which disallows them from participating overseas. He said at present there are no records of births or deaths of animals.
Elcock started his farm in February 2003. He says he stands to lose a substantial amount of money if the GHRA does not regularise racing and in particular the keeping of records in Guyana.
"I had these classic mares that did well at racing; well-bred horses which had good bloodlines. I couldn't just leave them to the pasture. I had to continue the cycle of keeping the bloodline and which would assist in the upliftment of racing in this country," Elcock says.
"â€¦ Horses have a way of going back to their grand dam and breeding an exceptional horse. Both Private Dancer and River Dance have the ability to throw classic horses. The stud that I use for breeding on my farm is a Kentucky bred stud. However, all the bloodlines would go to waste since there is no system of documentation."
Elcock explains that it is different in Trinidad and Tobago. "Horses are registered in Trinidad. There is nothing like that in Guyana. It used to happen in the days of Durban Park but no longer."
According to Elcock, poor documentation and records have resulted in horses from this country being barred from competing in Trinidad and Tobago, arguably the Mecca of horse-racing in the Caribbean. He added that not being able to compete overseas puts a damper of the breeding market.
"What happens is that if our horses are not able to compete against the best overseas then we really can't know how good they are. They can't be sold to overseas buyers since there is no proper documentation. So breeders end up holding the dirty end of the stick.
"I would say that to produce a race horse in Trinidad would be around TT$32,000. That could be done in Guyana for a fraction of the cost."
Elcock says he is tired of hearing promises. He says about three years ago he designed a stud book form, but it was "thrown in a corner."
Hanoman agrees that in Guyana almost no rules or regulations are observed. "That is the reason why I moved out. I can't see myself racing back in Guyana."
Hanoman called it quits over five years ago.
And contrary to Kennard, he feels classification of horses is still a sore point. "People are changing horses' names. You don't know when horses are born, [because there is] no proper form of registration."
He says that officials from the GHRA should be at every meeting to make sure that the rules are enforced and turf clubs which do not comply should be penalised. "This Racing Authority is wasting time. Horse-racing in Guyana is totally out of order. Everybody is doing their own thing. It is gymkhana," Hanoman said.
He maintained that record-keeping is a major issue. "If we don't have good records then we can't go anywhere to and race except right here. In the 1960s we could have gone to Trinidad with horses like Lincoln, King Cobra, and Pinky, which was Mr Crawford's. We had no problem with them going there and coming back. That is because we had proper records," Hanoman explained.
"That paints the whole picture of horse racing Guyana. It is very dismal. The only person I know who has tried to stick to rules and regulation is Marcel Crawford. He has gotten wrong with a lot of people for that."
Crawford, an English-trained lawyer said in an exclusive with Stabroek Sport: "All sorts of madness is going on and nobody cares. I do not think that until I die racing will come back to normal in this country. We have narrow-minded and selfish people who are not prepared to learn.
"The people who are running tracks do not want to cooperate to get a proper system. Years gone by the only recognised track was the Demerara Turf Club. There was the Corentyne Race Club and the Springlands Race Club, affiliated to DTC."
Crawford pointed out that the oldest Turf Club in the country is the Corentyne Turf Club now called the Port Mourant Turf Club which was formed in 1919. Springlands Turf Club was closed down in 1951 and DTC in 1972.Everything went after the closure of the DTC, Crawford said. He recalled that before it closed people came to Guyana to buy horses, despite the fact that there were very few proper stallions in the country, because the pedigree was higher.
He lamented the lack of a Turf Authority in Guyana. Asked if the GHRA did not provide the same service, Crawford answered in the negative.
"In 1975, the people who were running the then Corentyne Race Club wrote a letter to the Trinidad Turf Club asking for affiliation. In 1983 the secretary of TTC gave me a copy of that letter, asked me to come back to Guyana and have the clubs all affiliated and have a racing authority.
I came and did that but then we had a tug-of-war. Racism came into it, politics came into it and stupidity and it was never formed," Crawford said. He said a racing authority had to be independent. Its members must not be connected to horse-racing. They must not be owners, trainers, grooms or jockeys. Crawford said that the only reason he is still involved in the sport is because his wife Lillian owns horses and he trains them.
"It is pure chaos. Five-year-old horses are racing as three-year-olds. Horses are coming into this country and no one is presenting their import certificate," Crawford said.
Touching on the issue of doping the lawyer said that drugs have played a major role in the deaths of the animals.
"Since the closure of the DTC over 600 race horses have been imported into this country. Doping has destroyed most of them. Some come and after two or three meetings they are finished. There is open and rampant doping in this country. People are even now doping horses with cocaine. An animal will give an outstanding performance this meeting and the next cannot stand up to race. This is because it was doped."
Another bad practice is changing horses' names, he said.
"People change the name of horses. Once a horse has raced or turned three years old you cannot change its name.
But Crawford said that sometimes even the names of dead horses turn up on programmes. "Many times you will see 16 horses on a programme entered for a race. When the horses come out to race there are only three."
He said for there to be proper racing more horses needed to be bred. "For you to be able to race horses properly you will have to produce at least 150 horses a year. When the mortality rate takes over you may be left with 90."
And with regard to breeding, he said: "Could you imagine that they are servicing horses throughout the year when stallions are supposed to be mating mares only from the 15th of February to the end of July?"
Crawford said that he is willing to lend his expertise, providing there is cooperation and not stupidity.