STREET BEAT: Other side of the track
THERE IS MUCH more to the sport of horse racing than one might think.
For example, did you know a horse runs differently on different tracks such as on clay or grass and whether it is wet or dry? The animals also run differently according to the direction of the track?
And what of diet, exercise regimes, grooming and riding techniques?
Street Beat learned all this and more earlier this week after a visit to the historic Garrison Savannah where preparations are in full swing for tomorrow’s premier horse race in Barbados – the Sandy Lane Gold Cup.
Peter Sobers was perched on a starting gate overlooking the jockeys taking horses for a training run.
A former jockey himself, he said his job now entailed opening the large gates to allow access to the track; ensuring the fees were paid for the horses to run and keeping a record of everyone who entered the track, among other duties. He gave his thoughts on the sport then and now.
“I used to ride in the 60s and 70s and I’ve been doing this for the past six months. It was tougher then, the guys got it easier now as there was not as many opportunities to ride as there are now, there are a lot more places overseas now for jockeys to race,” he said.
Sobers said the quality of both the jockeys and the horses had dipped as well as the dedication to the sport.“We had better jockeys then, the fellas were more dedicated and the horses were better too. At that time, you could hardly get a chance to race because of all the competition,” he said.
However, Kwame Joseph is out to prove that belief wrong. At 16, his dedication to the sport has caused him to leave his homeland to seek his fortune here.“I’m from Antigua, but I came here to ride because there are no recognised tracks in Antigua,” he said.
Joseph said his father helped pave the way for him as his father owned horses and paid for the trip. He said he was still new to the sport, having been involved for nine months, but was enthusiastic.
“I just love horses and I love to ride and I have something to offer. The only thing is that I have never ridden alongside so many horses before so it can be difficult, but I will adjust,” he said, adding he will be participating in an apprentice race tomorrow.
On the other side of the experience spectrum lies Samuel Walters, who has been racing for 20 years and at 42 years old, he said he was not ready to stop yet.
“I am not ready to retire yet, my body will tell me when enough is enough and at 115 pounds, I still feel great. Never say done ’til ya done,” he said.
Even so, Walters admitted to having little luck at home despite reaping success and valuable experience abroad.
“When I started, it was tough for me and it is still tough. Most of my breaks were made overseas, I won my first race in Guadeloupe and my second in Martinique, but I have never won a race at home yet,” he said.Walters said he has been to England, the United States and Canada, adding he had gained a lot of experience at Sun Hill Farm in England. He also had some advice for young jockeys.
“Discipline and self-respect will take you far and if they have the patience I have, that too will take them far,” he said.
Walters said he was hoping to finally win a race at one of the conditional races around Gold Cup. In addition he said he hoped his 12-year-old son would follow in his footsteps as “he is built for the sport”. However, he added it would be his son’s choice in the end.
It is said the grooms are the ones who know the most about the horses. Alan Beige has been a groom since 1993 and was raised on the sport.
“I was born and raised in Dayrell’s Road and back then, there was nothing but horse racing; every youngster loved it,” he said.
Beige said his father was a trainer and his brother was a jockey so it was a family matter. As for the job itself, he explained why he loved being a groom.“It’s a routine job; your duties don’t really change. I also like the hours – you have to start early, but by 9 a.m, ya done,” he said.