by Daniel Rath
Exams had just finished and I was burning for some excitement. All that math and language stuff made me want to jump out a window. When I went to my mother with these concerns, she said,
"Just wait until tomorrow".
The next morning, my little brother woke me.
"We're going to a horse race!"
We packed some water and snacks and set off on the 2 and a half hour car ride.
This gave me plenty of time to reflect on the origins of horse racing, fresh in
my mind from an interview I had heard on the radio.
A few days earlier, Mr. Charles "Forever Sweet" Brown had been a guest on a morning show. Having been one of the pioneers of organized sports in Belize, Mr. Brown, now 86 years old, was a walking history book. His father, Mr. Wilfred W. Brown had been a horse trainer for Mr. R.A Matthews, a Jamaican businessman who owned several horses in the 1920s. Back then there were only two horse racing events, December 26th and January 1st, both organized by the Belize Jockey's Club. One of these events was sponsored by the Dewars White Label Company and hence given the name the Dewar's Cup. Competition for the Dewar's Cup was so stiff that horses and jockeys were imported all the way from Jamaica for the event.
My time of reflection over, we arrived at the Burrell Boom Race track. It was very crowded, with horse stalls everywhere. While my mother and little sister guarded our seats in the grandstand, my father, brother and I wandered over to the stalls. Most horse owners were eager to talk to us, and we gained a lot of info on horse racing in the modern times.
Some aspects of horse racing have remained the same. For example, most of the
key players have inherited their interest in the sport from parents or grandparents.
Horses get a local feed of corn, oats, rice and pellets that gives them stamina,
body and endurance. And horse racing activities still generate income for the
community; provide entertainment for families and opportunities for businesses
to advertise. Since purses, even for sponsored races, are relatively small - ranging
in the hundreds - horse racing in Belize is still pretty much a hobby.
the same, great strides are being made to turn it into an income generating sport.
The Belize National Jockey Club and the National Horse racing Association have
improved facilities and standards and there is talk of forming a company and attracting
investors. Evidence of their efforts have already started to show. About three
years ago, for example, there were less than ten thoroughbreds in the country;
today with sires and dams at claimer or allowance levels of racing in the US being
imported and bred in Belize, this number has climbed to about seventy.
Just then the loudspeaker announced that the races were beginning, so we made our way to the grandstand and got our binoculars. My little brother nudged me.
"Bet you $3.00 that Cotton Candy's not going to win the 6 furlong race," he said.
Well, I couldn't pass up such an easy bet, so I agreed. As the races started, my attention was hooked on the way the horses' muscles rippled as they were running, the way the jockey leaned forward to urge the horse onward and the speed at which they zoomed by us. Finally, the 6-furlong race was announced. The horn blew and they were off! Cotton Candy trailed behind for the first 2 laps, but, just as I was getting out my money, he made a sprint and came in first!
Now $3.00 richer, I headed over to Cotton Candy's stall. There he was, sweating from the exertion of running a race. I pleaded with his trainer to let me sit on him but he explained that only Cotton Candy's jockey could mount him. Though slightly disappointed, I understood that the jockeys had to be of a certain weight, and spent most of their time with the horses. Then I had an idea! Running back to the car, I yelled:
"Dad, can we have a horse?"
Special Thanks to:
Paradise Expeditions Birding
Images Courtesy of:
Tony Rath Photography