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BTC on the right track

Andi Thornhill

BTC on the right track

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The Barbados Turf Club is on the right track with its Winter’s Jockey Challenge.
The face off between jockeys from Barbados and Britain should “pull a crowd” to the Garrison when the third racing seasons begins on November 16.
It is a welcome initiative because it shows that the BTC is serious about diversifying its product to add a freshness to the current racing brand.
This is not to say that the sport is in poor health and it needs urgent medical attention to keep it alive but in business you always have to keep your options open and explore the feasibility of tapping into newer markets.
The forthcoming jockeys’ challenge is a concept worth putting to the test.
We could use another big day on the racing calendar.
At the moment we flock in droves to see the Sandy Lane Gold Cup, the United Derby and the offering on Boxing Day.
These are the days that stand out but when you consider there are three racing seasons in a year, there’s probably room for other auspicious events to capture the public’s imagination.
I am fully aware there’s a big financial cost to stage even an ordinary race day, so something special will increase costs appreciably.
It was reported recently that it can take over $50 000 to have races so we can begin to speculate what the figure is going to be for the upcoming challenge.
We would have to factor in airfare and accommodation and other perks to entice the foreign jockeys here although we might assume that some of the cost to stage an event of this magnitude will be offset by the BTC’s loyal partners and sponsors.
Just saying that this undertaking shouldn’t be taken lightly from a financial viewpoint.
It should be seen as an investment that can work to the benefit of not only the horse racing fraternity but the wider society as a whole.
For instance, I am thinking that once it is successful, eventually it can attract coverage from the international media as the Gold Cup used to do.
If it goes that route this will amount to advertising for Barbados at a price it wouldn’t be able to afford under normal circumstances.
The other obvious spin-off is that such an event can help boost tourism numbers if well marketed in niche areas in Britain – our major tourist market – and in North America, particularly Canada where Bajan jockeys, trainers and grooms are making their mark.
In fact, depending on availability, the turf club can look at alternating the challenge for our top riders against their British and North American counterparts.
The stakes may be high but it is worth the gamble to sustain interest in the local horse racing industry while making an effort to contribute to the economy.
I thought the BTC exposed its hand during the second season when it held evening racing twice.
The first one was a resounding success and pundits agreed that it attracted a bigger crowd than on a normal race day.
The second was admittedly a bit lukewarm in comparison to the first but at least the intent was good.
We saw an organization trying to respond in a proactive way to give patrons something else to enjoy.
Perhaps in respect of enhancing that model in the future it’s for them to add more sideshows to the package and turn it into a Friday evening after-work lime.
For sure, we duly expect that the Winter’s Jockey Challenge will have all the necessary and affordable inducements to swell the patronage.
It has to be a spectacle that will leave us calling for more.
Perhaps just as significant, it should reach such a pitch that more sponsors would be lining up from early for the next edition realizing that it could be mutually beneficial to all parties.
As an avid racegoer, I am always keen to see how foreign jockeys with no previous knowledge of the notorious paddock bend handle it and how they perform in general on our very tight track where racing room isn’t a premium compared to what they get in their jurisdictions. 
In fact, we have to credit our reinsmen for having such great skills that elevate them and make us proud when they compete against international jockeys at home and abroad.
When you have ridden in the Kentucky Derby and the Breeders Cup like Patrick Husbands has done or like Rico Walcott in last weekend’s Breeders Cup at the Santa Anita race course, it clearly shows that our riders have pedigree.
Let us note, too, Walcott was the only Caribbean rider who was engaged at the richest racing series this year.
There is a possibility that others like Quincey Welch, Kyle Carter, Jalon Samuel and Antonio Whitehall will also reach that level  in time to come.
I am just reinforcing the point that our jockeys will be up to the challenge of the foreigners on November 16 not merely because of local knowledge but because they are very capable.
One of the other projects I hope the BTC gets the green light for is night racing.
It seems to be an intricate matter but the least that the authorities can do is give them a chance to have a trial.
I think the perfect time would be selected nights during the official tourist season because that sector will have an additional activity to recommend to their guests.
It will be a grand mix of locals and visitors as I anticipate will be the case with the Winter’s Jockey Challenge.
• Andi Thornhill is an experienced and an award winning sports journalist.