A Bugler dress in clothing reminiscent of the colonial oppressors’ attire, the Queen’s Guard, played a familiar tune to an arousing cheer from the crowd. It’s a rendition that is very distinct to every horse-racing fan throughout the world, be it at Ascot Racetrack in England, Woodbine in Toronto, Canada, or as in this case, Caymanas Park Racetrack in St. Catherine, Jamaica. It’s the call for the horses running in a Race to make their way, with riders aboard onto the track. Today’s race program will feature the Ninety Ninth running of the Jamaica Derby. The morning line favorite is Reggeaboy to be ridden by four times Champion Jockey, Emilo “Bimbo” Rodriques whom is regarded as the Willy Carson of Jamaican riders. Bimbo as described by pundits of the sport, is the strongest jockey ever, embodied with superior strength and skills of horsemanship and is seeking his fourth claim to this prestigious race title, having won aboard Tudowit in 1 975, Lucky Ole Son in 1979 and Thornbird in 1984.
I’m told a Derby race day anywhere in the world attracts the rich and famous, the middle class and the poor, and today it seemed no different at Caymanas Park. The crowd is enormous; movie stars, music celebrities, government officials, sponsors, professionals of other sports and the common man are all at the track. My anticipation is that there will be thunderous shouts and applauses among the people as the horses pass the stand for the first time and again when they enter the straight for the final run to the winning post. Horseracing, dubbed, The Sport of Kings has most certainly become, The King of Sports. Everyone present is caught up in the moment, from the avid punter to the novice, from the Milan and Paris fashioned, to the average Tom, Dick, Harry and Sally in their Jamaican traditional apparels. Jubilation fills the air, likened to the aroma of a Sunday Evening’s Dish prepared by a Jamaican Granny a nd happy faces similar to that of children visiting Grandma for the “nyamings,” embraces me everywhere.
The track announcer declares the track is fast. Sprinters may then dictate the pace, running at lightening speed either from start to finish, or, perhaps, be collard in the stretch drive by the closers. This is still to be seen and this kind of unknowing brings even a greater form of expected joy to an almost unpredictable outcome. The race is laced with certain to be inducted hall of fame masters of the saddle. Leading Jockey Winston “Fanna” Griffiths, a tactical rider with an illustrious career will partner House of Lords. James Long, an accomplished American rider that has taken to the Jamaican course is aboard Island Gal, George Hosang, a home grown talent whom had just returned from Canada, where he had won consecutive Jockeys championship there twice, will ride the Eileen Cliggot trained, Foulball. Simon Husband of Barbados and a few more International Riders from various Islands of the Caribbean comple te the field. The above named horses are the creams of the crop, but not to be over looked are the lesser fancier horses and other local riders that will participate in the Derby. In the past these lesser fancied horses and riders has defeated the favorites, upsetting at long odds; today could be no different.
Upon my arrival, patrons already occupied the Grandstand consisting of thousands of seats. Automated Betting Machines and Betting Windows were everywhere. There is a huge Tote board facing the Grandstand next to a jumbo television screen. Scores of TV terminals are conspicuously place inside the building and provided a view to Simulcast Racing from notable Tracks such as Santa Nita, Aqueduct, Calder, Belmont and Woodbine, all of which garnered the betting public’s interest. Attractions for kids are installed and in operation, from a nursery and a playpen to video games, pony rides and show jumping.
The Track is resting on a property of about 196 acres and is surrounded by the adjoining communities of Portmore, Gregory Park and Independence City. Some houses are visible from the grandstand and people could be seen on their roofs with binoculars to their eyes watching the proceedings. Apart of the infield is made to look like a naturalized pond inhabited by groves of trees and wild life. Ducks, water birds and pigeons are busily pecking, swirling and hunting for food. The remaining landscape is a well kept lawn and garden with blooming tropical and exotic flowers of all colors, sizes and species. Kiosks with all sorts of horseracing memorabilia and Food Counters are at Caymanas Park in abundance. Jerk Chicken, Pork and other Jamaican and Chinese Cuisines along with American fast food bellows its scent in the atmosphere.
At ten minutes to post time the horses are paraded in front the stand, held by their grooms, all of whom wore a similar Derby T-shirt, accompanied by the trainers. After which the runners made their way to the starting gate, many un-assisted. The legendary trainers Phillip Feanny and Kenneth Mattis both had entries in the Derby, along with other outstanding trainers such as Percival Hussey, and Wayne Dacosta. By all account, the starters are well trained and should provide an exciting, trilling finish. All the horses were in immaculate condition with several chewing on their bits, some had trembling feet looking anxious to run and yet still others remained clam. Reggeaboy certainly looked to me the pick of the paddock, nine hands high, muscular built with its rider Emilo elegantly seated with a look of great confidence in the saddle. Other runners that caught my eyes were, A king is born, Sweet & Sour, Du ppy Gun and Breddamon. In all, there were sixteen horses scheduled to run the mile and quarter distance of the Derby and every horse seemingly had a chance of winning; an opinion confirmed by the touts of the horse handlers to the betters.
A minute to post time and the horses are being loaded in the starting gate. A few stubborn ones did require some urging as well as the assistance of the starting gate attendants. A glance at the tote-board displayed the odds of 5:2 on Reggeaboy, 7:2 on A king is born, 3:1 House of Lords and 4:1 Island Gal. The remaining runners are from 7:1 to 20:1 except for Worthless Boy at 99:1 a name that fits the odds and may be an indication of how it will perform, then again, may be not. All the runners had a competitive look and so I hurried to a betting window and placed twenty dollars on Worthless Boy to win; a name I have been called far too often by my parents in their reprimand of me and in later years my by friend Thelma Cole; and so I took the chance, hoping to come away with a hefty dividend, so I could later brag on them how Worthless Boy at times can become worthwhile. By the time I returned to the grandstan d the runners were all in their starting positions and with a wave from a white flag by the starter, the gates swung opened and off went the horses to a deafening roar from the crowd.
Worthless Boy from the outside position galloped to the lead, setting off in a blistering pace as the runners past the stand, followed by, A king is born, Moonshine and Duppy Gun. Behind those on the inside were House of Lords with its rider, Winston Griffiths standing tall in the saddle, Island Gal and a few others in a bunch. In the middle Reggaeboy was under a very tight reign, held by the powerful hands of Bimbo as Sweet & Sour and Breddamon raced like a team towards Reggeaboy’s outside as they made their way into the first turn.
Heading towards the milepost Worthless Boy opened up a commanding lead of about five lengths with Island Gal giving chase, then a gap of two lengths to House of Lords, Reggeaboy and A king is born moving as a trio. These were followed closely by, Duppy Gun, Sweet & Sour, Breddamon, Foulball, Lord Laro and about six other horses making up the rear. Completing the first four furlongs in 45.2 seconds as shown on the large jumbo screen and heading towards the six furlong pole Worthless Boy loomed along, still five lengths clear of the rest, causing me to be stamping my feet and shouting numerous times, “Move horse jockey!” while flashing my right hand as if it were a whip to keep Worthless Boy going and moving my entire body as a jockey would on a horse during a race.
Worthless Boy had gone a mile in 1:38:03 with all the runners in a close pack racing virtually on its heel as it negotiates the final bend. Reggeaboy, Island Gal, A king is born are the ones closest in contention as they made their way into the straight with a furlong and a half to go. Worthless Boy was now a mere length in front when Reggeaboy surged forward lengthening its stride with each cracks of the whip from jockey Emilo Rodriques and with a furlong to go both horses are lock in a dual as Island Gal and A king is born faded, allowing a fast finishing Foul Ball and Lard Laro to be in third place respectively.
As the horses came within the last furlong Reggeaboy joined Worthless Boy as Foul Ball, Lord Laro and Moonshine closed like a ton of bricks falling from the sky, catching the leaders with every jump. The apprentice rider Andrew Ramjeet drifted Worthless Boy towards Reggeaboy, a masterful tactics of causing Reggaeboy to sway without causing much interference that could have resulted in a disqualification should Worthless Boy win the race, but at the same time preventing Emilo Rodriques from using his whip. Under a brilliant and energetic hand ride Reggeaboy seemingly poked its head in front and as they flash past the winning post with Moonshine, Lord Laro, Foul Ball and Worthless Boy in a photo finish. It could be anybody’s guest as to what order those five horses finished, but deep within me I had the feeling Reggeaboy and Emilo “Bimbo” Rodriques had reached there in the nick of time to lay claim on the Ninet y Ninth running of the Jamaica Derby. Five minutes later the crowing glory began as the tote board came alight showing Worthless Boy the 99:1 outsider just failed to win the Derby by a short head and Emilo Rodriques had won his Fourth Derby.