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Everyone loves a winner
Everybody loves a winner but it is only in losing that you can tell the character of an individual. These words have never been truer than in the sport of horse racing. It is often said that you have to be made of stern stuff to gut it out in this sport and we have seen time and time again exactly what stuff many individuals are made of. The recent furor over the ill-judged remarks of the owner of Triple Crown aspirant, California Chrome, following his colt’s defeat in the Belmont Stakes on June 7 have somersaulted the qualities required to be a successful owner back into the spotlight. Coburn’s decision to castigate the connections of the rival horses who did not compete in the two other legs of the Triple Crown was rightfully met with derision and contempt. But it really speaks volumes for the approach of many to the sport.
In Trinidad, we have many owners who are not graceful in either victory or defeat. These individuals, who are otherwise perfectly amiable gentlemen and ladies seem to acquire a different persona when it comes to the standing of their horses. One commentator when opining on the behaviour of Coburn reflected that the sport of kings had been reduced to the game of thrones (a reference to the Machiavellian cable tv program in which success is pursued at any cost). One wonders if the analogy is equally applicable in T&T. In foreign countries, when owners move horses from one trainer to another it is usually done in the hope that a change of scenery, a change of training method or simply a change will bring about some different fortune for the animal and its connections. There is absolutely nothing wrong in this. It is rarely accompanied however with the “mauvais-langue” and bad-mouthing that many times accompany similar shifts in T&T. Why should this happen? Why should there be the vocal expressing of views that previous trainers were ill-treating the animals or cared more about one animal than another. We are all entitled to our opinions but some opinions are best left shared among one’s closest friends, as Coburn certainly found out. Picong is healthy but there is a line beyond which it becomes malicious.
Horse racing is about competition, of course, arising from the competition is the opportunity for there to be winners and losers which gives rise to the betting possibilities. The betting possibilities in turn give rise to the revenue generated by the sport which is what is re-invested to assist in the growth of the sport. Horse racing is not the only medium that gives rise to betting possibilities. In some territories, people gamble on everything under the sun including whether there would be a sun. As such, it is incumbent on us to keep in mind that the element of competition must come first. When the degree of competition is diminished, and the gambling possibilities reduced, then the funds available for re-investment in the sport also diminishes. There is therefore always a bigger picture issue when it comes to competition in the sport of horse racing. In Trinidad, we are seeing creeping tendencies towards reducing the level of competition, many times associated with owners’ inability to lose gracefully. The old adage “if you can’t beat them join them”, seems to have been translated into “if you can’t beat them, buy them”. We have situations in which owners are leasing horses to race in their name with the prize money going to the “true” owner, owners are buying horses for a day or a race, trainers are renting their name, and jockeys are fixing more than the odd race.
Leaving aside the legality of some of these actions, which is very hard to do, all of these situations reduce the perceived level of competition and reduce the betting possibilities with its resultant effect. While the goose isn’t quite golden, it certainly kills it nevertheless. Owners need to find a way to encourage competition, not diminish it. The joy of winning without having bought out the competition is unparalleled and if you lose, there is always tomorrow. Where guts and fortitude are required is not so much the losing, but the injuries that are incurred during training or during the running of a race. Once someone cares about the animal, the injuries and the general welfare of the horse is what should be the most upsetting. Some owners in the sport show little regard for the welfare of the animal. Injuries happen frequently, and given the still poor state of the racing surface in Arima, it is hoped that more care will be placed on preserving the longevity of the animal.
It was very disappointing to read that one of the biggest owners in the sport in Canada, Eugene Melnyk, had decided to quit and would be dispersing of all of his stock. Melnyk is most famous for his decision to stop competing at the local level in Barbados following the controversial disqualification of one of his horses in the Sandy Lane Gold Cup. Melnyk is also famous for not really knowing very much about his horses since he would often be quizzical when asked to comment on the performance of any horse outside of the top class ones. His decision to exit the sport at the relatively young age of 55 and after only 20 years in the sport is strange and there is probably more to the story than first meets the eye. However when one’s stable increases to in excess of 200 horses, it is virtually impossible for the owner to become attached to any one horse and if each horse is not cared about, then the bottom line becomes winning. That is not a sustainable bottom line for a sport in which losses far exceed wins.