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Barbados on track

Tony Best

Barbados on track

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His name wouldn’t ring a bell in the ears of many residents of Six Men’s Bay in St Peter. Never mind that Eugene Melnyk’s race horse Speightstown won the prestigious Breeders’ Cup Sprint in 2004.

It also wouldn’t mean a thing to a lot of people on Barbados’ south coast to hear that Bert’s Bar, a popular sports watering hole in Rockley, Christ Church, is owned by Melnyk. Folklore has it that scores of Canadian visitors to Barbados go to Bert’s Bar, hoping to catch a glimpse of one of Canada’s best known sports figures and owners watching hockey games in which the Ottawa Senators team is playing.

Melnyk, 55, is a Ukrainian-Canadian and is among the 100 richest businessmen in the North American country. He has lived in Barbados since the early 1990s. As if to show his deep affection for the country he has given all of his race horses Barbados place names. For instance, Luke’s Alley, which recently won the Durham Cup Stakes at Woodbine race track in Toronto and will run in the Autumn Stakes next month, is one of them. Leigh Court, which came in first in the Thoroughbred Club of America Stakes in Kentucky earlier this month, is another. On and on they go.

Archers Bay, which won one Canada’s most prestigious races, the Queen’s Plate, Tweedside, Bishop Court Hill, Graeme Hall and Strong Hope are also on the list.

Little wonder that horse racing buffs in North America were left speechless when the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest daily newspaper, ran a story informing the horse racing community that the highly successful owner was leaving “the sport of kings” and was doing so without any regrets.

“I’ve been owning horses since I was 19, 20 years old,” Melnyk told Katie Lamb of the Toronto Star in an interview about his decision. “It’s a question of priorities. I still love the game and if that were all I had to do it would be great.”

He does have quite a lot on his plate that would keep him busy. For instance: There is the Ottawa Senators NHL club in the Canadian capital. The franchise is valued at hundreds of millions of dollars. It belongs to him. The Canadian Tire Centre, where the Senators play, is among his assets.

He keeps his fingers on the pulse of the Ottawa Senators Foundation which has given more than CAN$ 100 million in contributions to a host of charitable causes. “I believe that giving back to them (Senators fans) in the form of community work is the sincerest way for everyone in the Senators family to say thank you,” was the way he put it.

There is his ongoing deep financial interest in North America’s pharmaceutical industry. He was the founder of Biovail Corporation, a pharmaceutical company and was its chief executive officer before it merged with Valeant. By the time of the merger in 2010, Melnyk had left the firm and sold his stock.

His eyes and ears remain glued to the crisis in the Ukraine, where the ongoing crisis with Russia attracts a global audience. When both Ukraine and Moscow seemed on the verge of going to war, Melynk flew from Barbados to Ottawa where he conferred with Canada’s Foreign Minister John Baird and the Ukraine’s Ambassador in Ottawa.

But how is he going to cope being away from the horses? He is philosophical about that while explaining that his interest in the sport wouldn’t simply die.

“I’ve already won a Breeders Cup. I’ve won each leg of the [Canadian] Triple Crown, both female and male. I’ve won Eclipse Awards. At one point, you’ve reached the peak and you’ve done it all,” he was quoted as saying.

“I bred the best to the best and some worked out, but 98 per cent don’t,” he said.

The man, a former trustee of the New York Racing Association, who opened a childcare facility for Belmont Park workers in New York and won the outstanding owners award on two occasions in Canada, has reduced the size of his stable from a pinnacle of 500 horses to six in training at Woodbine along with some yearlings and two-year-olds at his farm in Ocala, Florida. Even so, he isn’t planning to leave it completely.

“I’ll still be around, don’t kid yourself,” he told Lamb. “I think I’ll put my last bet down as they are wheeling me into the hospital.”

In a real sense, Melnyk is an advertisement for Barbados. Few things are written about him without mentioning that his home is in the Caribbean country and the names of some of his successful horses such as Sealy Hill, Canada’s Horse Of The Year in 2007 and Marchfield whose earnings surpassed the CAN$1 million mark are proof of that.