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The death of Big Man Boyu in the quarantine area a few weeks ago has reverberated throughout the racing community in the Caribbean during the ensuing weeks and many questions continue to linger over how this was allowed to happen by those in authority. We extend our condolences to his owners Baskaran Bassawh and Mark Goodridge, for whom the loss must have been devastating. This incident represents a culmination of backward practices and policies being engaged in by the officials at the Ministry of Agriculture, within whose purview lay the quarantine area. Someone needs to have a word with the Minister of Agriculture and reveal the state of affairs that currently engulf horse racing when it comes to travel arrangements (procedures) of horses to and from T&T. At the moment, it can only be described as a recipe for disaster.
At the time of penning this article, the outcome of the investigation into the loss of the animal remains unknown but we have already heard words of defiance, with little or no remorse from those in charge, particularly, it appears, if we are to believe what has been quoted so far in the media. In the immediate aftermath of the incident, the first response from those in authority seemed to have been to investigate the circumstances under which the security allowed the private vet to tend to the stricken animal in its final hours. How heartless? This response from the government officials are symptomatic of a belief that “father knows best” which seems to inflict most government officials if given sufficient time in position of authorities. Let me state categorically that this matter must be fixed now. The implications of the death of Big Man Boyu extend beyond the apparently limited imagination of those responsible for the quarantine facilities in this country.
Every year between 25 and 50 horses are purchased overseas and imported into this country. At least 30-35per cent of this total comes from the United States with the remainder coming primarily from Jamaica. Both sets of horses are confronted with the same appalling conditions in the quarantine areas. The circumstances surrounding the loss of Big Man Boyu has seriously undermined the confidence prospective purchasers have in acquiring new stock. Racing needs new foreign stock to survive, let alone thrive. Then we have the situation with the horses being brought in to compete in specific races—as is the intended case with the much talked about Racing Festival in December. The owners in Barbados and Jamaica that we are seeking to entice to send their best horses to compete, are unlikely to risk their animals unless they are now convinced that significant improvements have been made. It is interesting to note that recently the connections of one of the best horses in the world—So You Think, now based in Ireland—expressed some concern over his participation in one of Australia’s most famous races due to the likely quarantine requirements. Almost immediately, the Australian authorities responded that they were confident they could “work out” a solution to ensure that the horse competed in the race.
Does any reader believe that would have been the response of the Trinidad authorities? I don’t! The problem is the lack of influence, those in horse racing in the past had over the regulatory authorities, which on most occasions led to disdain in the relationship between horse racing and the quarantine regulations. Perhaps given the quality now at the Arima Race Club in terms of Management, together with a much stronger base at both the Trinidad and Tobago Racing Authority and Betting Levy Board, we can have more definitive leadership in the interests of horse racing. If this triumvirate can continue to be united, then they can seek redress through the line Minister for Horse racing, Stephen Cadiz. The death of Big Man Boyu was in fact a tragedy waiting to happen. Most people in the racing industry are aware of the fiasco which occurred almost nine months ago when just around 20 animals were imported from Jamaica into this country. First of all, those in authority claimed to not have sufficient accommodation for so many animals.
The owners (primarily the hard working and caring Mr Bassawh) then arranged to construct additional stalls in the quarantine area. The horses remained in the quarantine area for in excess of two months since the authorities refused to let any horse out of the area once one horse displayed signs of a cold. Invariably therefore, with so many horses in close proximity to each other, one by one, the horses became infected. Most of the horses, on leaving the quarantine area, showed signs of distress since the same level of care obviously could not have been afforded to them during their incarceration period. But the warning was ignored by all, with the government veterinarians defiant, that they were following the rules and just doing their job. Given the end result, not only a revisit of job specifications, but also of rules need to be done by senior officials independent of these government authorities.
The racing fraternity has been complaining ad nauseam about the conditions surrounding the quarantine facilities in this country, but these complaints seem to fall on barren soil. The response of the quarantine officials is that their objective is to safeguard the health of the entire horse population in this country. A noble mission indeed, but since the horse population is owned by the very members of the racing fraternity that are complaining, there is a clear disconnect somewhere. No racehorse owner in this country would want to jeopardise their existing racehorses, yet still, almost all believe the existing system can be improved. Surely someone should be listening to their views. All the racing fraternity in Trinidad is requesting is that our quarantine facilities be brought up to international standard. These facilities cannot be left solely in the hands of public servant doctors, who have no genuine concern for the animals in their care. The Head of the department and some colleagues seem to care more about the horse population than any of the individual horses.
All over the world, quarantine facilities are run as businesses, in much the same way as you have boarding farms for yearlings, broodmares, etc—you have privately managed quarantine facilities. Government inspectors ensure that the minimum standards are maintained to preserve the integrity of the wider population of animals but the individual facilities are managed by private individuals. Government facilities in fact compete with these privately managed facilities. Whether the facilities are privately or publicly managed, the expectations of the racing fraternity would be the same. The care of the horses must be foremost. The following are some simple considerations that would make the racing fraternity believe that this was the case: 1. improved standard of facilities in the quarantine areas; 2. easier access to the horses for qualified vets daily without any protocol obstacles; 3. Expansion of quarantine area to facilitate improved proper separation of animals to minimise contagion effects; 4. review of quarantine period as a requisite of the top three (above) being fully implemented, this would ensure a reduction in the time spent in an enclosed environment which is not good for anyone, not least animals.
There is a significant loss of confidence in the quarantine area in Trinidad and the authorities need to take urgent action to restore this confidence or the consequences for racing in Trinidad will be dire. We have certainly found ourselves in a quandary on this one! And at the moment, this loss of confidence can only ensure that everyone believes that government veterinarians are not as caring as private veterinarians, who cannot be true and if these government authorities have pride in their profession, they will seek quickly to remedy that. We call on the two Ministers to meet over some cabinet tea shortly and address this matter, before their cup runneth over and it is too late! It is often said , and proven to be true—that when you are unkind to animals , it will come back to haunt (bite) you). So beware those of you allowing this evil to continue against the horse population.
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