Thu | Dec 12, 2019

Grooms point to Caymanas ‘shame’

Published:Sunday | November 17, 2019 | 12:46 AMRobert Bailey - Sunday Gleaner Writer
Groom Mario Skeen working in the stables area at Caymanas Park last week.
Groom Mario Skeen working in the stables area at Caymanas Park last week.

Low wages and deplorable working conditions are some of the major issues affecting the over 200 licensed grooms at Jamaica’s horse racing headquarters, Caymanas Park.

“Some of the grooms down here are living badly; it is a shame!” said an emotional Cedric Harware, a 67-year-old groom, who has laboured in the stables at Caymanas Park for the past 46 years.

When The Sunday Gleaner visited the stables area at the facility, which serves as home for both man and beast last week, it resembled a refugee camp, as overgrown bushes and dirty water surrounded the mostly unkept stables, and mosquitoes and other insects created havoc.

Basic amenities such as running water and proper bathroom facilities were non-existent, with the stench of unattended to horse waste puncturing the air.

“Some stable don’t have toilets and so a groom have to defecate in the bushes and that is very unfair,” Hardware shared, as he fought back tears.

“I was even upset the other day because I saw a groom went into the bush to defecate and these types of things spread diseases and so we need more toilets down here,” he pleaded. “I think that some of trainers do not rate the grooms and it is very unfair.”

This is a sentiment shared by fellow groom, Mario Skeen, who himself has worked at Caymanas Park for over 12 years.

NOT SUITABLE FOR HUMANS

“It is not suitable for a human being to be working in these conditions because most of the place needs bushing. Sometimes when the rain falls, water run in on us and wet up the horses in the stall and so the conditions are really poor,” added Skeen.

Like many of their peers, Skeen and Hardware have had to work in these conditions, tending to thoroughbreds, who in some cases earn millions for their trainers and owners.

The average groom at Caymanas Park currently earns $3,500 per week, for each horse that they condition. In addition, they also earn five per cent of whatever purse money that horse brings in.

“It is very unfair,” Hardware argued. “I think we should be getting at least five thousand dollars for one horse.”

To compound the situation, there is very little stability or security where wages are concerned and the veteran groom believes more needs to be done in terms of representation for the group.

“Some weeks, some man don’t get any money because the trainer might owe them and so you have to find something else to do in-between,” said the father of two. “Sometimes you have two horses, sometimes one, and sometimes none at all, and so we don’t have a set pay.”

“We need a president that will defend the grooms and we need better living quarters if we have to stay here, because a lot of guys stay here,” Hardware said.

Skeen also expressed frustration with the remuneration.

“I think this is poor, because I think it could rise to even five or six thousand dollars per horse,” said Skeen. “This can’t support my family because I have one child and sometimes you have to hustle on the side by going to the track and gamble and try and win a money.”

“The most horse you get is two or three horse, and so $10,000 per week, come on, a joke thing,” Skeen added.

Meanwhile, Fabian White, who is in his second stint as president of the Grooms’ Association of Jamaica (GAJ), said he is aware of the grooms’ concerns and sought to assure that he has been working to address these issues.

“We are in negotiations with trainers and owners right now, because we have been having meetings in regards to an increase,” said White. “There is no doubt that the money is small, but one must remember that the grooms get five per cent of purse money once the horse earns.”

With most of the approximately 1,500 horses at Caymanas Park not earning winnings on a regular basis, it means that most grooms can only rely on their weekly funds.

“The place needs to upgrade and there is no doubt about that but, we just have to wait and see because the roads are bad and the environment need to be upgraded in more ways than one,” added White.

“Under my presidency, three nice toilets were built and I went away and they mash them up. I just get back one fixed last month and it is the same persons who are using them that are mashing them up,” he stated.

White also added some of the grooms currently have insurance plans, while others don’t have because they don’t want to pay for it.

“I am trying to get a benevolent fund set up, because I was in Canada and that is what they have for the grooms, and so I have been trying to get that done, but it is not an easy road to get it done,” White said. “When it comes to putting away anything, people don’t want to put away anything. They (grooms) have life insurance, but it is who pay for it and many of them don’t want to pay for it because it is not free.”

Interestingly, Beverly Lawrence, a welfare officer at the Jamaica Racing Commission, noted that they were not in a position to address the grooms’ wage issue due to terms established and agreed on by the GAJ president and trainers in their last agreement two years ago.