Today I want to reminisce on some of the finest horses to have graced T&T over the last 35 years. The list is not exhaustive and may not even number 50. Firstly, I will focus on the imported sprinters pre-centralisation. Initially, the top imported animals were brought in from the United Kingdom and Ireland. This was no doubt because our sport was run on the turf at the four venues of Shirvan Park, Union Park, Santa Rosa Park and the Queen’s Park Savannah. The vagaries of these four venues presented different challenges to trainer, jockey, punter and horse, and really added to the enjoyment of the sport. One of the first imported horses to stand out was the Eric Durant-trained, Conrad Awai-owned Irish bred, Quisical. During a three-year period 1975 to 1977, this high-class sprinter was a joy to behold. He won two Stewards Cups and was second in another over that three-year period. This was in addition to the numerous other “big” races that the big bay won.
One of the races that remains etched in my memory was the big sprint at the 1977 Summer meeting in the Savannah in which Quisical faced Barbados three-year-old colt Local Knowledge. The latter is on my list of top imported but he detested soft conditions, although he won the Stewards Cup in 1980. However, in 1977, the three-year-old upstart was facing the local champion, Quisical. What a race! I am sure there were many other top horses in the race, including the likes of Clown Prince, Gay Sahib and Blanket but the race was all about these two who hooked up from the top of the straight and battled neck and neck to the wire. The capacity crowd was on its feet, as the local champion battled the Barbadian sprint champion. It was a race that could not be forgotten. Quisical prevailed by the narrowest of margins. Fantastic stuff! When talking about finishes, can anyone forget Golden Eagle? This American-bred colt was owned by John Gonzales and trained by Richard Francis. After a somewhat undistinguished start to his career in 1983, he blossomed. By 1984, this colt had established himself as high class, but with the unfortunate distinction of always coming up short in the championship races. He was somewhat flexible as to his best distances though six furlongs was considered by most to be on the sharp side for him. He did however possess a powerful finish.
In 1984, the sprinting scene was very competitive but none could have anticipated what would happen in that year’s Stewards Cup. Five horses flashed across the finish line almost as one. Bursting through from behind were Golden Eagle and Derek Chin’s Splendid Peak (who would later win that year’s Gold Cup), one of the very best early Jamaicans to grace our shores, Stampede (who was second in the prior year’s Stewards Cup) had been at the front end from the outset and two other runners whose names unfortunately I have forgotten. It was a tremendous finish and in the end, Golden Eagle ridden by Vaughn Charles was declared the winner. One man really dominated the imported sprinting division prior to centralisation—Eric Colt Durant. He trained so many winners. Besides Quisical, he also trained the brilliantly fast Pert Princess who remained something of an overall disappointment despite a brilliant win in the Stewards Cup as a three-year-old. On that day however, she put her rivals to the sword including Quisical and another brilliantly fast creole, Set Royale. Colt completed an eight-race winning streak over the period 1971 to 1978 when Regency Bill won the Stewards Cup in 1978. Other top sprinters trained by Durant included the versatile Windy Hill, Faites Vite, Empress Jo, Sweet Tassa, Gone Prospecting, and Mr. Socialite. It was unfortunate that following centralisation his interest seemed to wane but he was a master trainer beyond comparison.
Other top sprinters were the Arthur Suite-owned Driven Dotty and Ignacio Garcia’s Northern Treat who shared a common irony in that they were both trained by Joe Hadeed on their initial arrival as three-year-olds in 1985. However by the time they both won their Stewards Cup, each had a different trainer. Another top sprinter who shared that same history was Willard Gopaul’s Cookie’s Beauty, who won her Stewards Cup in 1981. Hadeed did win his share of Stewards Cup however with Merlin Samlalsingh’s Smoothawn giving him back to back wins in 1989 and 1990, to add to the victory by Local Knowledge in 1980. Other top sprinters included Melingo, Green Man (a Barbados-bred creole) and Imaginary Sky. The pre-centralisation era was a glorious period for imported sprinters. Top owners invested heavily in bringing in quality talent and while not all fulfilled the ambitions of their owners, almost all provided great joy and excitement to the betting public and lovers of horse racing. I will continue this series on the top horses to have graced our shores with a look at the imported stayers pre centralisation next week.
Getting my figures in order
Seems like I got my figures all mixed up in last week’s column when I wrote that Daren Ganga, the former T&T captain, was second in the batting averages in the local T20 trials. In fact, that honour belonged to Queen’s Park captain Justin Guillen, who scored 216 runs at an average of 36. Guillen was also the only batsman to score a century in the trials, while his tally was second only to Evin Lewis (219). Ahead of Guillen was Yannick Ottley who scored 190 runs at an average of 47.5, he also took nine wickets at 14.30 Ganga was third in the averages with 158 runs at an average of 31.60 while Lewis was fourth at an average of 31.29 Jason Mohammed was 10th in the averages with 138 runs at an average of 19.71 while William Perkins was 11th in the averages with 150 runs at 18.75