Dec. 11, 2005 Few horseracing fans initially turned up for the holiday races held at the Clinton Phipps racetrack on Sunday afternoon.
Although the weekends races were the first Clinton Phipps has seen in more than eight months, fewer than 100 fans were in the stands when the first race began at 2 p.m.
However, that didnt stop those present at the track from being excited about Sundays events. With music playing, and booths selling food and drinks, residents gathered in groups to talk about which horse was going to win, or to place bets on the top picks.
"It feels really good to be out here again," Norma Pickard-Samuel, horseracing commissioner, said before the first race began. "I wish the government didnt have to get involved the way that they did, but it was time that we had a race here in St. Thomas."
St. Thomas Administrator James O'Bryan announced late last month that the V.I. government would be taking control over Clinton Phipps for the next six months, following problems with current promoter Lester Ashby of New Image Racing. O'Bryan also said that a task force of government officials has been meeting over the past two weeks to launch a full-scale capital improvement initiative at the track. The initiative resulted in several cleaning crews coming in and removing overgrown bush and other debris.
At a Senate meeting in October, stakeholders in the horseracing industry said the Clinton Phipps track was in "deplorable condition," and is losing money because for a number of reasons. (See Senators Question Conditions at Clinton Phipps Race Track.)
On Sunday, OBryan said he was satisfied with the work accomplished by the capital improvement initiative, and is already talking about prospective days for future races.
"We plan to do a lot more with the track as we continue our efforts at Clinton Phipps," he said, "and were possibly considering holding another set of races here around Martin Luther King Jr. Day, or after Christmas."
Looking at some excited fans gathered around the track, OBryan added that the races are "simply a reward for all the work weve done."
The first race of the day was a seven-furlong race for a purse of $2,300. The race was wire to wire, and ended with St. Croix champion Honor Bonus necking out Lil's Angel with a time of 1:38 3/5.
Lils Angel jockey E. Olama called a foul on Honor Bonus, as the two horses bumped during the last stretch. Olama said it was this contact that caused Lils Angel to lose the race. After reviewing a tape of the race, however, judges disallowed the foul claim and declared Honor Bonus the winner.
The majority of the purse some 60 percent went to the winner, with 20 percent going to the second place horse, and 10 percent going to the third place horse.
The second race went quickly, with St. Thomas bred My Dream Team holding its early lead all the way to the end. My Dream Team finished the six furlong race with a time of 1:11 4/5.
My Dream Team owner Graikos "Tunka" Jennins who won $1,500 of the $2,500 purse said he has been participating in races since the age of 16.
"I've lost a lot, and I've won a lot," he said after the race. "But I knew I was going to win today. I was ready, and I knew that no one could stop me."
The third race was a six-furlong race with a purse of $3,800. St. Croix racehorse El Chuso had a top race time of 1:11 2/5. Crowd favorite Tropical Concerto came in second, trying at the last minute to catch up to El Chuso, but to no avail.
Sunday's fourth race, a seven furlong with a purse of $2,700, was a close race between Crucian-bred horses Boch One and Finny. The race came down to a photo finish, with Boch One winning by a nose with a time of 1:27 2/5. Finny took second, and St. Thomas bred Picklewhip Charles came in third.
The fifth and feature race drew hundreds of spectators to Clinton Phipps. The race was 1 mile and 70 yards, with a purse of $6,000. However, the race had a tragic outcome, as St. Croix debut horse Panimetro stumbled in the top stretch of the track and was carried off the track for observation after the event. Panimetro started the race at breakneck speed, only to lose to former St. Thomas track record holder Hearts at Risks.
Hearts at Risks – winner of the Governor's Cup during last year's Carnival races – returned to St. Thomas Sunday after spending the last few months on St. Croix. Bruce Smith, secretary of the Horse Owner's Association, said during the race that Hearts at Risk had to leave St. Thomas because of the conditions affecting the Clinton Phipps Racetrack.
Horse owner Clarence Nibbs, who had horses coming in second and third in some of the day's other races, won the sixth race with his horse Valid Respect, who came in at with a time of 1:26 2/5. Valid Respect's jockey was E. Olama, who rode Lil's Angel into second place during the first race.
The race was 7 furlongs with a purse of $3,800.
All races began promptly at post time, allowing the events to finish at 5:30.
"The races really went off spectacularly," Lauritz David, president of the Horse Owner's Association, said after all races were finished. "There was a lot of cooperation between St. Thomas and St. Croix horse owners, and I really appreciate everything the government has done to get the races back on track here. It really is a wonderful feeling."
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