Horseracing at the Garrison Savannah is some people’s sport of choice. It is also an industry which employs more than 3000 people. Its 6 furlongs oval-shaped track is known for its uniqueness with its local patrons and visitors very close to the action providing an unforgettable experience.

The Garrison area is steeped in history dating back to the 1800s while the Barbados Turf Club established in 1905  organises and promotes the sport on the island.  Race meetings are held year-round with the Sandy Lane Gold Cup its biggest attraction. The Derby takes centre place in the middle of the year while Boxing Day at the races is a  must.

When War Eagle streaked to victory in the Derby under the lights on Boxing Day 2020 in an unaccustomed spot, the racing season ended on a high with all looking forward to what’s to come in 2021.

But the coronavirus pandemic brought horseracing to a screeching halt in January with a lockdown by authorities. Trainers and grooms were classified as essential workers due to the equine care continued to work during the lockdown. Lobbying by the racing authorities for training to resume was granted with minimum staffing under social distancing, mask-wearing and sanitizing.

It is no question the effects that Covid had on racing. Sport is a business too and livelihoods were affected, with a trickle-down effect to all the ancilliary components connected to it.

No horseracing taking place put a  huge strain on owners, trainers, jockeys and grooms to survive. What was expected to last a few weeks turned into months much to the dismay of all with no income sources. With no income from racing an option, the only benefits came via government payments for the jockeys and subsidies offered by the racing authorities.

The first big race to suffer was the biggest of them all, the Sandy Lane Gold Cup. Held on the first Saturday in March, this prestigious race which had its genesis in 1982, is the biggest income earner on the racing calendar. It contributes greatly to the island’s tourism product with the influx of tourists with its international appeal including runners from overseas.

When racing finally returned in June, it was without spectators which while not ideal was a least a start. The racing calendar had to be reaaranged. The Derby usually run in August took place in November to accommodate the first two legs of the Triple Crown.

Online betting requiring punters to set up online accounts was the newest innovation as the club tried to find ways to accommodate the racing public and pre-race betting on the days there was racing was also implemented. Live Streaming and live television broadcasting became the new way to watch horseracing.

The suspension of racing for five and a half months and the absence of spectators on its return has been a huge blow to racing finances coupled with the fact that they were no sponsored races. It has been a very challenging time for the industry.

As for the racing itself, the sight of the horses going around the track with a few owners, trainers, grooms and gate crews cheering from the stands was a strange feeling. Because racing was also halted in other Caribbean islands some horses were sent from Trinidad and St Lucia that added to the local racing stock. This was indeed much welcomed.

Racing continued during the year without spectators and the biggest highlight of the shortened racing season was People’s Champ breathtaking win in the Derby and capturing the local Triple Crown.

The green light was given for crowds to return to racing on Boxing in the enclosed areas only with a cap on capacity. It was extremely exciting to welcome back racegoers to the sport they love. There is certainly a demand for families and friends to meet and to enjoy the social occasion of a day at the races.

Night racing is expected to be the attraction that should enhance the racing product and provide a good racing experience as many are starved for action. It is the belief of some that the cool of the evening would be very attractive to visitors and locals alike.

These are indeed challenging times but we must remain positive and maintain our belief in our racing product which has been in existence for over 100 years.