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Calling the whacker man

Wednesday, December 11, 2013
Dancing Brave

“Rain, rain go away, the children want to come out and play.” 


These words from the popular children’s nursery rhyme seem to have been turned on its head by those responsible for the administration of racing at the Arima Race Club (ARC). 


Day in, day out, once rain falls prior to a scheduled race day, turf races are routinely cancelled, denying horses with a preference for turf, any chance of racing. 


Many owners, (including my brother Nigel Mark and myself who own two turf horses) in frustration, give in to the dark side and race their horses on the unlike surface with predictable consequences. 


Mother Nature is something that none in racing have any control over, but it is when Mother Nature has listened to the words of the Nursery rhyme and yet, there is no turf racing, that the failures of the administrators or more precisely, their child-like approach to their job, becomes most evident. One such occasion was last Saturday when, in spite of two/three days of limited rain, the turf track was deemed unsuitable.


This journalist had a conversation with the Club’s chief executive officer, Christopher Armond who sought to explain that because of the prior condition of the track, proper track maintenance was impossible and so the grass had not been cut and the surface had not dried out sufficiently to present safe conditions for riders. This grass, I was told, grows differently than most on a turf surface. Safety is paramount in the minds of all concerned and so can never be toyed with, but one is left to wonder why the situation was left to come to this. 


On closer questioning, the CEO explained that attempt to cut the grass had been stymied by the soft conditions which resulted in the tractors and other grass reduction large devices becoming stuck in the mud. It seems to me that this was more likely a case of the authorities spinning their own top in mud. And honestly I believe the persons responsible sold the CEO, a bunch of dunk.


Most property owners know that during the rainy season, the use of automated vehicles for cutting lawn grass is an exercise in futility. As a result, it is a case of having to revert to the more manual methods of weed whackers and lawn machines if one wanted to maintain the appearance of their property. It is a bit more labour intensive, but much preferred to do nothing. The CEO pleaded for the need for additional capital to undertake renovation of the track but it is unlikely that such financing will be readily available from the usual sponsors, as the cost is over $1.5 million. As such the situation is expected to remain unchanged.


Management requires the possession of numerous skills and it is widely known that having a title does not mean that one possesses management skills. 


The most important of these skills is problem solving…everyone can manage when there are no problems; true management is only seen when there are problems. Finding a means to run off a scheduled race program when there are obstacles is the job that all of those employed at the ARC were engaged to do. Looking for alternative ways of cutting grass when tractors cannot function would seem a relatively simple problem to solve. Unfortunately, it seems a problem beyond the skills of the ARC management team.


The ARC management seems content to let fate take its course, and given that the responsibility is left to Stephen Jardim, the track manager, he has a lot to be accountable for and should be accountable too. I would love to read his performance evaluation report, although to be fair, he spoke to me earlier this year and stated that the current turf surface and track is not suitable for turf racing in its current state.


The question that owners who prefer the turf must now ask themselves is whether it makes sense to race these horses in Trinidad or export them to neighbouring Barbados. Any such decision is sure to damage the local industry since it will further deplete the country’s racing stock. At the same time, they may have no choice since the ARC should take the wise decision to discontinue scheduling turf racing for the second half of the year, the rainy season. 


It would seem a wise decision for the ARC management to make since it would enable such owners to make a decision with respect to the training regime for their horses. Unfortunately, it appears based on the evidence in front of us, that the ARC management cannot be relied upon for wise decisions. Owners therefore will have to make rational decisions on their own.


The situation with the management of the turf track is symptomatic of the challenges that have been facing the racing industry. Management is reactive rather than proactive. 


A problem occurs with security, the management decides to beef up security; a problem occurs with the identification of horses, the management decides to ensure that proper identification procedures are in place; a problem occurs with the integrity of some activity, management decides to implement reforms. 


One is left to ask the rhetorical question as to what holistic approach is being taken to the development of the industry. For example, how could sponsorship of one of the two biggest days of racing at Christmas time—Stewards Cup day on December 7—only is arranged during the week of December 2? And as a result, the ARC ended up with a potpourri of sponsors—each race sponsored by a different individual, probably for nominal amounts and a trophy, and with a paltry crowd.


When these questions are raised, it is difficult to conclude whether the problem lies at the board or executive level. Some of the board members are experienced and senior professionals, who in their professional careers surely displayed much more acuity than is currently being evidenced at the ARC. 


This suggests that the challenge may lie at the executive level and with persons to implement the decisions of the CEO, in which case difficult decisions will need to be made. He should reassess many of his staff in these important decisions and bite the bullet otherwise in the near future it will be his head on the chopping block, like so many CEO’s before him.


Again however, in this country of short memories, these matters will no doubt blow over as quickly as they blew in. All the while though, the words of the nursery rhyme “rain, rain go away the children want to come out and play” will purr quietly since the big children continue to play come rain or sun.


Let us watch for this Saturday, where there is a feature race scheduled for the turf and view the outcome. But I am not hoping for much salvation, other than to ask all Whacker men in T&T to apply now to the ARC...they need you.


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