Local horse racing returned to Santa Rosa Park in Arima on Saturday with a six-race card, which was dominated by the two top trainers in the country with John O’Brien responsible for three of the six winners and his arch-rival Glenn Mendez responsible for two.
From the perspective of the Arima Race Club (ARC), while the day’s card took place without major incident, the betting handle might have been considered somewhat disappointing if their stated expectation of $800k is to be believed.
It was reported that the betting turnover was the relatively modest amount of $330k. As expected prize money was significantly reduced with the day’s feature event commanding a total purse of $16k with just over half of that amount going to the winner.
With bets on the day’s card being primarily available through the Club’s online Mbet channel, it could be expected that the betting turnover will increase over time as the betting public become more acquainted with the system and/or the adoption rate increases. With a viewership of the day’s card available online and betting now primarily online, the next objective of the ARC must be to promote their horse racing to overseas markets.
Since anyone can open his or her account with a credit card, it is fairly simple for anyone to take up an interest in local racing. The Club’s next objective must be to promote their local racing product to other markets in the Caribbean and/or beyond.
With this objective in mind, the ARC must consider various changes to how it currently conducts its races. For example, the entry period for local racing should be reviewed.
In the UK, when races were being returned, the entry period for races was increased from the traditional two-day period to three days. In T&T, we accept entries on a Tuesday for races on a Saturday. While that is fine for local racing turfites, the Club should consider extending this period by one day and accept entries on a Monday for racing on a Saturday.
This would allow individuals outside of T&T, who might be interested, sufficient time to review the day’s entries and become a bit more familiar with the horses. To further assist in this regard, the racing programme should be made available by Tuesday or Wednesday for the latest. This will allow turfites the opportunity to review the form and even watch reruns of the races in which the various horses competed online.
If the Club relies only on turfites in T&T, the betting handle might never reach expected levels. Another possible innovation for the sport could be permanently moving the day on which races is run from a Saturday to some other day in the week. While Sundays would be preferred, the Club should consider another day in the week.
With the dearth of safe live entertainment options, the Club might find racing on a Friday appealing to many, especially when attendance becomes possible once again. A partnership with entities, which offer outdoor family entertainment, might also be an avenue to be pursued since it will bring visitors to the venue without necessarily compromising social distancing considerations.
On the track itself, the fitness of horse and rider were both put to the test but for the most part, the races ran true to form. Last season’s champion juvenile and likely Guineas favourite, was very impressive in winning her 1,200 metres prep for the upcoming Guineas. She will be hard to beat but she is yet to prove that she can stay the Classic distances.
Her breeding and style of racing would raise questions in that regard, but her class superiority over her rivals may give her an edge. The upcoming race days and the return of some of her likely rivals will certainly tell us more. Her stable companion and winner of the maiden event, first-time starter Apache was also quite impressive, and while in an ordinary year a once raced starter may be too inexperienced to be a true contender, this is anything but an ordinary year.
His breeding, however, being a son of Blue Pepsi Lodge, raises its questions over his staying ability. He is not among the current nominees for the event, however so, connections will have to pay some sort of penalty to enter. Another stable companion, Wise Guy, only scrambled home in his Guineas prep but he is likely to strip much fitter for the Guineas itself. His sire was most disappointing in his injury-plagued career in T&T so he could be anything. The return of the Harold Chadee battalions in the coming days will certainly provide more insight into how competitive the Guineas will turn out to be.
Racing is back and it is now up to all of those involved in the sport to make it successful. Hopefully, with proper social distancing, more individuals might be able to visit the track, which is a quite expansive property with adequate space to ensure no compromise of the current limitations.
However, it is possible, that the ARC can examine the response of Caymanas Park in Jamaica, who has reportedly restarted horse racing by charging spectators and therefore indirectly limiting numbers and getting some monies in at the turnstiles, while also increasing the betting handle. It is a project that will need to be handled delicately and with great and decisive thought.