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This year’s juvenile season is yet to get underway as we move into the third week of October. It is surely a sign of the times that the two-year-old races scheduled for September 25 and October 7 have both been cancelled.
The earliest turfites can now expect to see the juvenile crop, is actually in the first classic event for these horses – the Nursery Stakes. It is scheduled to run off on October 28 and after the first subscription stage, a mere eight horses have been entered, three of them being Jamaican bred.
This is a far cry from the heady days when the Nursery Stakes was one of the premier two-year-old events in the racing calendar – even thought it was always the first classic of the year.
The first officially recorded running of the event came in 1956 and on 11 occasions since then, the race has had to be run off in two divisions due to the surfeit of entries.
Of course, in those early days, the race, which has always been hosted at Santa Rosa, was run off on a turf surface. In those days, it was not uncommon for two year olds to already have had one or two starts before facing the starter in this feature event. Could it be that since we switched to a sand surface, the breed has gotten slower in their development?
Some fantastic horses litter the honour roll of this event including Derby winners, Jouvert, Aquarius, El Camino, Royal Salute, Conquest, Flag Woman, Sara’s Music and Momentum. The latter two being the only eventual Derby winners to have won the race after it switched to a sand surface. Other renowned winners of the race, who went on to win at least one of the three year old classics, were Isis, Irish Honor, Northern Regent, Northern Bird, Shinkansen, and The Gatsby. Northern Regent won two legs of the Triple Crown but came up short in his attempt to win the final leg, the Derby.
All the names called would bring back great memories for anyone involved in the sport for longer than 10 years. It would also generate a considerable amount of nostalgia for those magical days of the sport in this country.
Besides the nostalgia, at a much more practical level, the reality is that, in those days when our two year olds were ready to race in June of their two year old years, the Trinidad Derby was run off on Boxing Day of their three year old season. The current situation is that our two year olds are barely ready to race before November of their two year old season and we have now brought the Derby forward to August of their three year old season from its previous September date.
The classic season in this country therefore spans a mere 10 months. Compare this with Jamaica, where their two year olds begin racing from May and Barbados, whose two years old begin racing in May/June. In the UK, their two year olds begin racing from as early as March. If our breed is developing more slowly, the question is are we doing the right thing by bringing forward our premier three year old classic. Interestingly, while we have brought forward the ultimate classic, the Derby, we have pushed to a later date the other two legs of the Triple Crown.
No Trinidad bred horse has won the Derby since Sweet Revenge’s victory in 2007 – Back In Top in 2010 was brought into this country in utero. The T&T classic season, and Derby in particular, undeniably favour Jamaican bred horses who tend to be more precocious than their Trinidad bred counterparts.
Interestingly, the three Jamaica bred Derby winners prior to Leading Lady all failed to win another race in their careers while the better of their Trinidad bred counterparts, many of whom were well beaten in the Derby, continued their careers with some aplomb.
Given the slow developing nature of the T&T breed, the question to be asked is - should we move our Derby back to Boxing Day? In the glory days of the sport, the Derby, the President’s Cup and the two Breeders Stakes (now St Ann’s and St James) were all run on that glorious Boxing Day. What a day that was! This change could be the catalyst for T&T’s equivalent of a Champions Day!