Horse racing is a sport that is rich in tradition. The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has robbed the younger generation of exposure to horses who could eventually become household names across the world.
Given the decline in the quality of our racing stock, while it was highly unlikely to be true in our case, it was not impossible. Champions emerge from the strangest of circumstances.
One such circumstance occurred towards the end of 1979. Racing in T&T was severely disrupted towards the end of the year as a result of an outbreak of equine influenza across the racing population. All racing was halted on November 11, and this country lost our Trinidad Derby and numerous other feature races scheduled for the latter part of the year.
In 1979, the Jamaican-bred Saturn and the Martiniquan-bred Tiduc won the first two legs of our Triple Crown but the undisputed top three-year-old creole was the locally-bred Prince Pele. Any one of them or any of the other three-year-olds of that generation would have been looking to succeed in that year’s Derby which was scheduled to be run on Boxing Day (December 26). Interestingly, the three-year-old generation of 1979 was not considered to be particularly strong.
When racing resumed in February 1980, the sport was to witness one of the best creoles to grace the local track, and which had been unraced as a two-year-old due to the shutdown in local racing, that creole was Beheaded. Owned by a partnership involving Harold Thavenot and Alvin Thomas, and trained by Joe Hadeed, Beheaded would only suffer three defeats on local soil during the year, sweeping all in front of him in winning the final two legs of the Triple Crown and all of the three-year-old classics except the Easter Guineas.
That first classic, the Easter Guineas, was won by one of the three-year-olds, who had raced as a juvenile, winning the Nursery Stakes among other races, Isis. Owned by one of the legendary partnerships of that era, the Lourenco/Samlalsingh partnership, Isis was a wonderful filly and was considered the top two-year-old of the shortened 1979 season. She would continue to perform at a very high level throughout 1980 though somewhat eclipsed by a few of her stable companions. She and all of the other three-year-olds of 1980 were, however, eclipsed by the bay colt named Beheaded.
Beautifully bred for that era by top sire Becket out of a useful mare, Whipaway, Beheaded made his debut in a maiden race at Union Park on the opening day of the 1980 season. His reputation preceded him and he was an overwhelming favourite and won easily. Another comfortable win in his second start resulted in him going off as a strong favourite for the first leg of the Triple Crown.
It was not to be on the day, however, as he was comprehensively overturned by the aforementioned, Isis, with his stable companion Moon Rocket in third place and Encore, a stable companion of the winner in fourth place. It was subsequently alleged that he may have suffered from sore shins during the race and he was not seen on the track for a couple of months after the Guineas.
Returning at the old Santa Rosa Race Track in Arima, Beheaded would then race unbeaten for the remainder of the year except for a still unfathomable defeat to the unheralded Avikdheer, in a minor race following his comprehensive victory in the Midsummer Classic and his final race of the season on January 3, 1981, to his talented stable companion, Moon Rocket when giving 10kg away to that horse, and after his comprehensive win in the Trinidad Derby with that same horse in third position and the equally unheralded but wisely trained Blaze of Glory splitting the two Hadeed horses (need I mention here that I bet my brother Nigel, that Blaze of Glory would run such an outstanding race at 66-1 and might even win the Derby …Yes, yes I got the big forecast in those days and my brother has never been allowed to forget how well I can pick outsiders).
Following his win at the Arima Race Club mid-year meeting, Beheaded would line-up for the second leg of the Triple Crown, the Midsummer Classic, a strong fancy to show his true quality amongst the three-year-old crop. His racing style - go to the front and attempt to run his rivals into the ground – generated tremendous excitement among turfites and would be a style made much more popular in the UK during the mid-1980s as a result of the phenomenal combination of Steve Cauthen and Henry Cecil during the pomp of horse racing in the UK.
On a soft Queens Park Savannah tur in Port-of-Spain, Beheaded pulverized his opposition, winning the Trial Stakes (now Midsummer Classic) by 10 lengths from his Guineas conqueror Isis, with two of the other top three-year-olds of 1980, Royal Boatside and Moon Rocket (who did not appreciate a soft turf track) further behind.
Beheaded would return to Santa Rosa Park to comfortably win the ARC Derby Trial from Royal Boatside, Special Request and Isis. Returning to Union Park for the Hopeful Stakes, Beheaded again made all the running to comfortably beat Royal Boatside, Moon Rocket and Isis.
Nominated for the Classico del Caribe, held in Venezuela that year, Beheaded never acclimatised to the higher altitude in Caracas and finished off the board in that event. Returning to T&T for the Derby to be run off just a few weeks later, there was a lot of question marks over the impact of the trip to Venezuela on the colt. On Derby Day itself, however, his supporters never had a moment’s worry as the colt raced straight into the lead and never looked back. He won the Derby by 11 lengths, equalling the track record at the time.
The enforced rest for our horses because of the Coronavirus could see a lightly raced or unraced horse emerging to take the track by storm. That would be a fitting end to a period which has seen, like the last few months of 1979, racing experience some of its darkest days. So there is still hope, that is the message today.