My Love Affair With Horse Racing
At Caymanas Park
© Copyright 2020 by Ranklin Dennis
From as far back as I can remember, I was not given much rein to wander about and mingle with most children in my neighborhood except for those of my mother’s friends and approved neighbors. School however, brought a welcome chance to deviate from the normal routine, but the discipline and principles were already instilled and embedded in me, so whatever concerns or fears my mother had of me being led astray were not realized. I wasn’t necessarily anti-social as I effortlessly interfaced and interacted with children whose ideas, interests, outlook and general modus operandi were similar to mine. My life was pretty simple; - home, school, church, going to the shop (not shopping), attending and participating in carefully selected social events, for example school and community fairs, outings, sporting events usually in the locale. As a preteen I had a passion for track and field events, but tried as I did, I just wasn’t good enough to make even the ‘reserve’ of the reserve list of any of the sporting disciplines oftentimes finishing in the ruck, - among the ‘also ran’ in my efforts: …but where I lacked the prowess to compete effectively, I developed the knowledge, love and appreciation for fast moving sports especially horse racing at about age fourteen, and before that, as an eleven year old track and field enthusiast. In the case of the latter, my interest was formed in 1964 when the likely athletes for the Tokyo, Japan 1964 Olympics were constantly being featured in the daily newspapers in the weeks leading up to the Games; (more about aspects of athletics in subsequent posts as this article is substantially about my early years as a fan of horse racing from 1967).
As a lad, I read widely: - comics, novels, mystery in the form of ‘The Hardy Boys’ and to a lesser extent, Nancy Drew etc., fairy tale books, and, yes, the daily newspapers which were available both at home and school. My home was not yet blessed with a television set to distract me, so reading became the usual lore and I found the sporting section of the newspapers most appealing. One day, a particular photo of a horse and the accompanying caption caught my eye. It said something about a horse called Rumpelstiltskin winning the feature race at the last meet. Having read about that fairy tale character just the day before, I was intrigued and wanted to know more of what this was all about so I continued reading the text which revealed that he was trained by a lady, - one Mrs. Eileen Cliggott. I was very surprised as I thought this occupation would be too arduous for a woman. Instantly, I felt a soft spot for her and wished her the best in her chosen vocation.
It was customary for me to share information with two of my classmates who were of like mind, and another boy about a year older living few homes away from me but who initially had no interest in horse racing until I began to ignite his imagination with glowing and glorious tidbits of what the gaming sport was all about. One day, one of my peers revealed to me that there was live radio broadcasting of horse racing on Saturday afternoons. My curiousity immediately piqued and I began following the sport more keenly particularly anything to do with Mrs. Cliggott and her charges. As time passed, I began learning the names of other horses, trainers, jockeys, gender of horses and so much more. It was very engaging for me to discuss many aspects of my then limited knowledge of the sport with my peers, learning from each other as the camaraderie improved.Needless to say, school work including extracurricular activities took precedence over our personal interests: - music, girls, nature, the environment, general knowledge etc.
There is always a time and place for everything and the Summer holidays was an opportune time and a welcome respite from school to further enhance my fascination of horses, and away from my mother’s ‘gaze’, and my routine lifestyle. I was fortunate to own a small battery operated transistor radio which became my best friend especially when studying or doing homework for school, particularly on a Saturday afternoon under the shady star apple tree at the back of the yard. In solitude, and blessed with a tranquil surrounding, I learnt a lot about my favorite pastime which was fast becoming a mild obsession: - from weights carried by horses in a race, their breeding, names of breeders, stud farms, owners and most of all, the jockeys and trainers. Among the names of the trainers I found one which seemed unusual if not inappropriate for a human. It was Heron (‘Mortie’ Heron). I was bemused because as far as I knew, a heron was a large greyish white wading fish eating bird with long slender legs, a long pointed bill supported by an ‘S’ shaped neck. I wanted to see a picture of him and what he was all about so I started to ’follow’ him closely and realized he was one of the more prominent trainers, saddling winners fairly regularly, particularly a three year old imported chestnut filly by the name of Persian Coin bred in England and which was definitely the star of his barn. I was very impressed with her because she was simply a sprinting sensation, and more than that as I learnt later that year (1967). She was an instant hit with me. Little did I know that the Summer would have heralded my two favorite horses competing against each other (and others) in a race. The event in question was the annual running of the then prestigious Harry Jackson Memorial Cup on Independence day over 12 furlongs for arguably the best stayers in the land. Interestingly, this race was won by none other than Rumpelstiltskin in the immediate previous year for his owner Mr. A.N.S. Jackson who was the son of the famed gentleman in whose honor the race was being run. I was rooting for him to give the ‘iron’ lady another lien on the Cup, but I also had a strong liking for Persian Coin. The event itself couldn’t even be termed a contest as the lightly weighted filly under an enterprising ride by David McKenzie went to the front shortly after the start and proceeded to make a mockery of the ‘race’ in a scintillating performance winning by the astounding margin of 14 lengths as I recall. Rumpel as he was affectionately called ended in fifth position in a fairly tight group. I’ll quickly add that this fairy tale named horse was the 1965 Jamaica Derby hero.
There are many twists, turns and drama in life speaking generally, as later that year in another staging of the 10 furlong Governor General Stakes for top class horses, Rumpel was awarded the race after finishing 10 lengths second to first past the post, - (guess who?) none other than Persian Coin which was disqualified for badly hindering another front running filly, - Ska, almost bringing her down in a mad rush to be the first to get to the inner rails at the clubhouse turn. Interestingly, too, Ska herself was the awardee of the 1966 Jamaica Derby crown after her second place effort in that classic behind Sunfisher
Twists and turns there are, but there are also some strange surprises. After a successful three and four year old career where she won races over varying distances (from 5 to 12 furlongs except for 9 furlong), the bold front running Persian Coin (now a five year old mare) was acquired by Mrs. Cliggott’s chief patron, - Mr. Alexander V. Hamilton – proprietor of Caymanas Estates Limited (a sugar cane growing plantation). She made her first appearance in a memorable race in January of 1969 for her new connections and won three important races including the Governor General’s stakes which was lost via the disqualification route in 1967 (as aforesaid). To me, her best performance came in defeat. Carrying a welter burden, she ran a game race in the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup to finish second by half a length to the very lightly weighted Salmon Spray. Her connections, though disappointed, had a lot to smile about the following month (January 1970) as she was voted the 1969 Horse of the Year, - a fitting reward for a great performer.
My memories of this vintage year weren’t confined to my two favorite outstanding thoroughbreds. I have fading recollections of the combatants in the Classics :-Jamaica Derby winner Creation, arch rival L”Max, victor of the Londsdale Challenge Cup (later renamed the Jamaica St. Leger) and Prosperity (renamed Subtle Advocate) winner of the year’s first Classic, - the Jamaica Guineas. Still, my best moments were those of some brilliant two year olds whose performances added more decoration and luster to what was already an outstanding year. To this day, I continue to hold the view that this was the best crop of juveniles to grace the track notwithstanding the ‘argument’(stated or implied) that what is most recent is usually the best or at the very least, better than the past. I cannot recall another year, when, in October of that year, so many (a total of six) were placed in the top class (A class), and many others, - just below,- in B1 and B2. Those at the summit included the renowned sprinters Gallant, Caliph, Mary Poppins, Art Princess, the grey filly Relentless which debuted in the latter months of the year and arguably the star of the show, the subsequently world rated grey colt, Rameses which finished a credible second to Kilowatt in the inaugural running of the Benson and Hedges Gold Cup. Others of note included Shaharazad, Bill Bojangle,,Cup O’Tea, Cortego etc.
Those were my best recollections and highlights of the 1967 horse racing Season. This sport of Kings and King of sports excite me.