Fri | Jul 10, 2020

Weekend racing in doubt - BGLC orders closure of all gaming lounges, betting shops and bars with gambling machines

Published:Wednesday | March 18, 2020 | 12:30 AMAinsley Walters/Gleaner Writer
The grandstand, a free area, is empty yesterday as horse racing resumed at Caymanas Park  without spectators, after a two-meet break due to concerns over the coronavirus.
The grandstand, a free area, is empty yesterday as horse racing resumed at Caymanas Park without spectators, after a two-meet break due to concerns over the coronavirus.

GROOMS were the only persons shouting yesterday afternoon, urging on their respective charges from near the winners’ enclosure, a far cry from the normal din which accompanies stirring finishes on a regular race day when 5,000 patrons cram the various stands at Caymanas Park.

However, at least one Supreme Ventures Racing and Entertainment Limited (SVREL) off-track betting (OTB) parlour in Portmore was observed being openly in breach of the Government stipulation that gatherings should not exceed 20 persons at a time. On Monday, when asked how this would have been guaranteed for the three approved racemeets, a Jamaica Racing Commission (JRC) official told The Gleaner that OTBs do not fall under the purview of that body, pointing to the Betting, Gaming and Lotteries Commission (BGLC) as the authority responsible to enforce coronavirus regulations regarding social gatherings at those locations.

This weekend’s JRC-approved race days are now in jeopardy and could be cancelled. SVREL’s main source of income, OTBs, were hit by a late notice from the BGLC yesterday, titled, ‘urgent advisory’, stating, “all gaming lounges, betting shops and bars with gambling machines must close, effective Wednesday, March 18”.

The advisory further stated, “The BGLC advises operators of all types of gambling establishments to strictly follow all directives announced in regard to the measures to control the spread of COVID-19. Establishments offering any form of gambling services are required to comply with the law that all bars, nightclubs and places of entertainment are to be closed …” Horse-racing promoting company, SVREL, though close to $700 million in the red since taking over operations at Caymanas Park three years ago, had sought and received permission from the JRC to stage the spectator-free racemeets, with no wagering at the racetrack, the other two being this weekend, Saturday and Sunday, saying it had the earnings of jockeys, trainers and grooms at heart in staging what will be three major loss-making race days.

Entrance and exit to the Portmore community-locked racetrack was confined to the north western Meadowvale gate and persons entering certain areas had to undergo hand sanitisation and tests, which included blood pressure, oxygen level and temperature scanning, in addition to providing vital information such as age, address, next of kin and recent travel details.

Yesterday champion trainer Anthony Nunes’ TOONA CILIATA, last year’s Superstakes runner-up to Horse-of-the-Year SHE’S A MANEATER, outclassed five rivals at seven and a half furlongs to land the King’s Plate. However, there was no owner on hand to watch TOONA CILIATA, nor any of the other nine winners on the 10-race card as only jockeys, trainers, grooms, race day officials, essential workers and media were granted access to the racetrack amid fears of the coronavirus, which has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization and has, thus far, afflicted 13 Jamaicans locally.

Back-to-back winners

In what could be the last racemeet until further advised, Patrick Lynch and Nunes each saddled back-to-back winners. Lynch’s CONTRACTOR won the second event as the 1-9 favourite before he followed up with BALA GRIS at odds of 7-2 in the third. Nunes opened his account with LET HIM FLY, a maiden condition race for three-year-olds, before TOONA CILIATA stamped his class in the ninth with jockey Linton Steadman, beating CRIMSON by two and three-quarter lengths in 1:33.1. Barbadian jockey Simon Husbands rode two winners, Ian Parsard’s three-year-old classic aspirant, DOUBLE CROWN, who posted an impressive 1:33.2, a fifth of a second outside TOONA CILIATA’s time at seven and a half furlongs, as well as 10-1 outsider, LOCOMOTIVE, in the fifth event.