The horse racing world was left enthralled by the performance of the “Champion of the World”, Frankel, last Tuesday. Everyone loves a champion and when an unbeaten horse wins 11 consecutive races including seven at the highest level by a combined total of 50 lengths; it is easy to understand why his presence is doing so much for horse racing in the UK. Similarly, in T&T we are consistently looking for a champion racehorse that the entire country can line up behind. Most of the time, the racing public wants a three-year-old champion, who can carry his performance into subsequent years and prove that he is the best of more than just one generation. Over the last couple of years, T&T has flirted with its own version of a champion three-year-old that could go all the way in winning the Triple Crown races and then bettering their elders. This year, after Unquestionable won the first leg of the Triple Crown, the racing community was full of hope that we had another horse to make a run at the prestigious title. When connections decided to drop back in distance to six furlongs for the Santa Rosa Classic, there were a few raised eyebrows. Those eyebrows rose further when the colt was beaten in the sprint and then failed to perform up to expectations in the second leg of the Triple Crown when well beaten behind Onetokeep. We will never know if that decision cost the colt his shot at the Crown but the dream was dead for another year.
Last year, we had three year old Touch D’ Road. After two emphatic wins in the first two legs of the Triple Crown, the colt was a beaten odds on favourite in the third leg, finishing third. The circumstances around that race are now history in this country’s racing annals. We will probably never know the truth behind all of the allegations. There were two interesting developments in this regard earlier this year however. Firstly, the said jockey Santiago Gonzales returning to these racing shores to ride for the owner of the second-placed horse in the Trinidad Derby, Galveston. At the time, Sammy, in the Trinidad Guardian in August, said that he did not expect his colt to win the race since he knew what was happening the day before. Without going into details, Sammy said he thought whatever was being planned the day before “would have changed by race day but it did not.” Insisting he was not heartbroken at the defeat which could have earned him a bonus of $1 million, Sammy said the sport should be totally free of enticements and inducements. He shared that he was very disappointed at the way his horse was ridden. “I cannot continue in racing with results such as this. My horse was clearly the best horse in the race though some may have thought otherwise. But they are wrong.” Sammy said his heart will always be for the horses. “It has been that way with my family but I cannot continue in this vein. Yes, I am upset but this is not good for racing.” Although he refused to be specific.
Secondly, there is news that Gonzales had been under investigation and subsequently received a three-month suspension from the Venezuelan racing authorities. All of this creates further doubt in the mind of many about the sincerity of the sport and raises much suspicion about the implementation of rules and control into the sport. In relation to that, issues have been raised in the horseracing circles of work permits and the authorisation for jockeys to ride in this country, all of which need to be properly monitored and enforced by the relevant authority, the T&T Racing Authority ( TTRA). If there is to be continual investment from owners in quality animals, then they must be convinced about the honesty in the sport and the need to be transparent more than ever to avoid claims of favouritism or nepotism, as is often the case in sports in this country. In 2009, the local horse racing industry heralded the arrival of Jamaica’s champion three-year-old Bruceontheloose. This grey colt was already a Jamaica Derby winner when he arrived to contest the Trinidad Derby, but in truth, it was not really a contest. Bruce simply toyed with the local three-year-olds before going on to dominate the imported class in the Gold Cup. Here was the champion that the local industry was waiting for since Top of the Class in 2003. Bruce has maintained his level of performance against the very best in the imported class though he is no longer as dominant as he once was over the extended distances. Among the creoles however, he remains untouchable. It will therefore be 10 years before we can begin to dream again about a Triple Crown champion in T&T. The two-year-olds are now beginning to step up their work at the race track and undoubtedly every owner/connection of a two-year-old in training is dreaming that they have a Frankel getting ready to race in their colours, or if not such a great horse, at least a Bruceontheloose.
Breeding is obviously no guarantee as has been proven over and over again and most recently by the dire performances of Bruce’s own three-year-old sister. She remains a modest maiden after about three starts for trainer John O’Brien.
If our trainers take a leaf out of the books of the great Sir Henry Cecil they will observe that his mantra is that he lets his horses do the talking even to him. He does not race his animals unless they tell him they are ready for a race. He made that very clear after Frankel’s first start and then he only races the animal in events that are good for the horse and which will assist in the horse’s progression. Sir Henry repeated an assertion that he first made over 15 years ago that the horse is becoming a much more backward breed and so therefore is in need of more time before they can reach their full potential. He is prepared to take his time and would certainly never consider dropping one of his charges back down in distance or up in distance too early in its career, this is a lesson, that more and more persons will need to learn in this country. The Trinidad thoroughbred is even more backward and therefore deserves even more time before it is ready to compete sustainably. The framing of races now discriminates against West Indian bred horses and so local owners need to be more mindful when acquiring such racing stock because their opportunities to compete in maiden races are being limited (due to frequency and surface considerations).
The local Yearling Sales is coming up shortly and so individuals interested in looking for 2014’s Triple Crown winner should begin their search. We will talk much more about that sale when the list of entries is revealed. Given that the Sales have been brought forward, hopefully the Yearling List will be unveiled shortly. The world has its champion (champions if we include Black Caviar) but there remains room for a local champion to still emerge in T&T. We have very many good horses – Bruceontheloose, Signal Alert, Ignition Coil,,Gabby’s Gold ,Onetokeep and nice to see Readbetweendlines being readied for a return to racing. Sacred Trust on the other hand, has the potential to be a very good horse, however the current method of racing this talented filly over any distance from 1200 metres to 1750 metres or beyond will (if not now), eventually take its toll on her, especially if those races are interspersed both on the sand and turf surfaces. We have Montejo and Boogie Blues over the longer distances and Galveston is showing signs that he could be a serious contender for honours in the Staying Division. A lot of promise but we are still in search of a true champion. Ten American bred two-year-olds were imported earlier this year and I am sure their owners are hopeful that they have acquired another sprint or staying champion. Time will tell but racing is built on dreams. Horseracing in T&T, needs a champion (horse) on the track and a champion (official) at either the Arima Race Club or the TTRA or the Betting Levy Board.