84-y-o donkey-racing champ saddles up again
Come Emancipation Day, 84-year-old Eustace Richards will line up among the riders in the perennial Top Hill donkey race that has for years been a cultural staple in the St Catherine district. And the evergreen warrior has every confidence he can...
Come Emancipation Day, 84-year-old Eustace Richards will line up among the riders in the perennial Top Hill donkey race that has for years been a cultural staple in the St Catherine district.
And the evergreen warrior has every confidence he can win – as he has done in the past.
Although some race watchers believe he should hang up his boots, Richards said he can still take on the best and emerge victorious.
Prior to his receiving an award for his outstanding career in donkey racing in June, the veteran, surrounded by his proud children, shared stories of his journey to fame.
“From mi a little child, about age 10, one man take me and say mi fit fi ride donkey, and him put me on one and mi enter di race and win,” said Richards.
“From that, the man take me and we win right around,” he disclosed, pointing out that his many races saw him missing out on school.
With a sickly mother and a dying father by his side at age five, riding donkeys proved to be a great income earner for the then young Richards.
When he became a father, Richards said he started cutting cane and doing a range of odd jobs to supplement his donkey-racing earnings.
With nine children and a wife, Richards was even more inspired to win the races, and his love and dedication to donkey and horse riding were not lost on two of his children – Gary and Karen.
Seated beside her father, Karen reminisced on how she harboured thoughts of becoming a professional jockey in the male-dominated field, but the closest she got was riding donkeys and horses in her community of Crofts Hill, Clarendon.
Her brother, Gary, who her father coached, went on to become a top apprentice at Caymanas Park before migrating to the United States and resuming his career at Belmont Park.
Like his father stateside, Gary has won dozens of races, notching his 51st victory on Friday, June 17, at age 58 on MORE MANGO to a 25-1 upset. He, too, is not ready to call it quits.
Reminiscing on his more than half a century of racing, Richards said his wife has been accommodating of his pastime, which often took him across several parishes for competition.
“Sometimes I leave and go St Mary fi all one week and don’t come back, and that time she have young baby inna house,” he said.
But he has one regret.
Richards laments that community youth in Crofts Hill are no longer interested in donkey riding – a culural shift that has left him disappointed.
His children flew into the island just to watch him receive his award from the One Connection group – an organisation that has been integral in the lives of community members through various initiatives.
“We are so proud that when we heard about it, we decided to travel to Jamaica to be with him,” Karen gushed.