Caribbean riders help Downs out

SCOTT UNGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

Wanted. Men. Around five-feet tall and 110 lbs. Willing to ride horses on a daily basis and be paid above-average money if you zip around a dirt track ahead of your competition.

Any takers?

Not from Canadians, or so it seems.

"From a jockey standpoint there just isn't a real proper training opportunity or development system in Canada of significance to product local talent," Assiniboia Downs director of operations Darren Dunn said.

And it's not like the people who manage horseracing tracks in Canada haven't tried to create a market here.

"We've tried things from grooms' schools to exercise rider schools," Dunn said. "We've put our best foot forward to try and make local opportunities, but it has not panned out with any significance."

Plus, when there is a Canadian jockey that has emerged, it's difficult to attract him to a smaller track like Assiniboia Downs.

"High talent Canadian jockeys go to Woodbine (in Toronto)," Dunn said. "It's very hard to lure anyone in Canada here. They either stay in the province that they are born and raised, or they go to the big money at Woodbine."

LOOKED SOUTH

So, Dunn has looked south to the Caribbean over the past five or so years to fill out his jockey roster of 20 riders. Currently, riders from that area account for one-third of the jockeys at the Downs.

"We've continued to really explore that market and have actually made a lot of additions, not only in jockey column, but also for exercise riders and grooms to address what has annually been a severe labour shortage in the Canadian market," Dunn said.

"There's almost a surplus. They have their own racing program, an extensive racing program through the islands. We've drawn from Jamaica, Barbados and Trinidad."

Jockeys are paid $55 for every race they run and they get a percentage of any money they win. At Assiniboia Downs, jockeys can make anywhere from $20,000 to $70,000 over the course of the summer, depending on their standing.


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