Horse Racing in Jamaica: Past and Present

Horse racing is probably one of the oldest sports in the world today. It is known that as far back as 4 500 BC tribesmen were racing their horses on a less official basis than exists today. In later years it became a common sight to see horses and horse drawn carriages being raced against each other, however, horse racing only made its appearance in Jamaica some years later. It is said that the first horses to have set foot in Jamaica arrived in 1509 and that by the time the English annexed the island from the Spanish, horses were found roaming the Jamaican landscape in all regions.

According to old documents, the first horses that were imported specifically for racing were brought in by the English in the year 1777, with racing records from 1816 proving that horse racing was already in full swing by then and growing as a very popular sport. It gave women a reason to dress up and during the developmental stages of horse racing, slaves were the best jockeys. Jamaica also became known for its exceptional breeding stock and it did not take long for it to become a racing power house. In 1905, the Jamaica Jockey Club was formed, with the establishment of the Jamaica Racing Commission following in 1972.

The Caymanas Park Racecourse, located in Kingston, is the only existing racecourse on the island. There were smaller courses scattered around the countryside, but these closed down one for one, leaving the Cayamanas Park Racecourse as the home of Jamaican horse racing. The racecourse was established in 1959 by Alexander Hamilton, but was taken over by the Government in 1989, when after the racecourse had changed ownership many times, it faced bankruptcy. There are many noteworthy racing events hosted at the racecourse. Caymanas Park Racecourse has recently released their 2009 racing schedule, which will feature eighty-two race days and have highlighted events such as the 1000 Guineas Fillies (4 April), 2000 Guineas Colts and Geldings (4 April), Jamaica Oaks for Fillies (25 April), Lotto Classic Day (23 May), Digicel Jamaica Derby (13 June), St. Leger Day (11 July) and the Superstakes Day (14 November) already confirmed.

Today, the racing industry in Jamaica consists of approximately twenty thousand members that range from grooms to breeders and jockeys to racing officials. Even though it is no longer as big as it was during its heyday, horse racing remains an important sport to the islanders and is well supported on race days.