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How our racing clubs melted

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Twenty-Five years ago, T&T was blessed with four racing venues – the Queens Park Savannah (which was the Mecca of racing), Santa Rosa Park in Arima, Union Park in Marabella and Shirvan Park, Tobago. In their collective wisdom, each venue was administered by its own Private Member Club, on lands presumably donated to the Club by existing or prior members (the history of the land ownership and initial transfer of title is vague and anyone with intimate knowledge of what occurred is welcome to submit same).

This led to the Trinidad Turf Club (an ostentatious title by any reckoning), the Arima Race Club, the Union Park Turf Club and the Tobago Race Club. Membership of each Club was governed by its own internal rules. Prior to the decision to centralize horse racing, the Tobago Race Club ceased holding race meetings following a fire at Shirvan Park.

The idea behind centralisation of horse racing seemingly began in the 1980s when a decision was made to move horse racing to a racing complex in Caroni. Work began on this complex but was halted by a combination of changed economic circumstances in T&T and the misconceived notion that the construction of such a facility should not take precedence over the construction of houses for the general population. This view, equally parts myopic and deluded, resulted in the Racing Complex in Caroni never being completed. Fast forward a few years earlier and the decision was again taken to centralize horse racing, but this time using one of the existing racing plants with the choice ever really being between Santa Rosa Park and Union Park.

The need for racing all year round also resulted in the decision to switch surfaces from the temperamental grass surface to the equivalent of an all weather surface such as dirt.

The logistics of the layout of the chosen site, Santa Rosa Park, also resulted in the orientation of the track having to be changed from a right handed to a left hand.

With the decision to centralize in Arima, the properties owned by the three other Turf Clubs were no longer required and these were eventually acquired by our Government. Again the details underlying this arrangement are vague though surely these records are available somewhere and anyone with access to these records are welcome to make a copy and submit same to the writer. It is reported at least two of the other Clubs (Union Park and Tobago) received cash payments for the lands acquired by the Government. It is not clear what payment, if any, was ever received by the Trinidad Turf Club in lieu of their use/lease ownership (?) of the Queens Park Savannah.

Fast forward to the 21st Century and the reality is that the Government is required to continue to support through the Betting Levy Board, the activities of the Arima Race Club. The Arima Race Club is asset rich, but cash poor, the Union Park Turf Club and the Tobago Race Club are cash rich with no assets. Outside of any loans which both of these Clubs might provide to the Arima Race Club, the bitter reality is that all of the burden of running of races in T&T to the benefit of members of all of the Clubs (who should be owners, trainers or somehow otherwise affiliated with the sport) rests on the Arima Race Club and its membership. It is unclear how the proceeds from the sale of the land to the Government, the cash that is being sat upon by the various other Clubs redounds to the benefit of the sport, which must have been the intention when the land was acquired by the Government.

In fact, there is strong evidence to suggest that the Tobago Race Club has earned a large amount in their investments in land, which over the years has become part of the airport’s runway. It is sad that the officials that run these organizations appear not interested in assisting the sport at the moment. One can only wonder what will happen to all of the monies now in the coffers of these Clubs that have no venue for horse racing.

Therefore the need has arises for a rationalization of the assets supporting the horse racing industry in this country. This should have happened when racing was being centralized, but did no for reasons which are unknown to this writer. Mature individuals run racing and a mature approach is now needed to ensure that all resources are aligned in purpose and direction.



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