By Dean “The Sportsman” Greenaway
For the second time since 2003, a dispute between government and the Thomas family, has scuttered horse racing in the territory, canceling the Sept 18 races which were rescheduled from Sept 4, during the passage of Hurricane Earl.
A statement from the Ministry of Sports late last Thursday night, said that the public is advised “effective immediately and until further notice” the portion of land at the Ellis Thomas Downs which is owned by Thomas family may not be utilized in any way by the government, its agents and/or assigns. This includes the Horseowners’ Association, and any person connected thereto.
With no settlement in sight, the four St. Thomas horses that had been in the territory since early September, returned to their home on Wednesday, after BVI Horse Racing Association president Lesmore Smith announced the cancellation of the Sept 18 races.
With the track being ordered closed “with immediate effect,” Ted Thomas, a member of the Thomas family confirmed with Island Sun Sports, reports that he had been threatened following the news that the track had been closed and “may not be utilized in any way by the government, its agents and/or assigns.”
“I denounce such behavior, whether it’s from the horsemen perspective or from any person in the community, not that there was any particular situation pointing out any particular person,” Smith told Island Sun Sports. “I was informed of the threat that came from the police side—something they heard but nothing that was concrete on my end—I just asked Ted Thomas and he said the police did inform and asked him to be careful.”
Smith, who met with horsemen on Friday night to apprise them of the closure directive, said he sent a message to horsemen, a social media group he’s in, that if anyone on their side thinking of such behavior to desist and let the chips fall where they may, let the negotiations go on.
“We don’t need to come to that point to threaten any family member, anyone involved, whether government or whoever, let the people do the negotiations and let the chips fall where they may,” he said.
Smith said since no fair grounds had been made with the negotiations, everything was in limbo, thus the races had to be canceled, since they were told not to use the track until further notice.
“I reached out to the family and asked, since the horses were here (from St. Thomas) can we go ahead and partake in the races and she (Marie Elaine Thomas-Griffin) said no and I respect the wishes,” Smith said. “So I left it.”
On Tuesday, St. Thomas Horsemen Association president Alturo Watlington, said that his hands on man, Clavert “Wacko” Charleswell who was in Tortola, told him if nothing was definite, the horses would be on the boat on Wednesday.
“We’re going to try and develop races here (in St. Thomas) until that situation is solved,” he said. “We’ll try to make some accommodations for the horses to come from Tortola and we’ll try to get races.
Watlington said Charleswell told him that he spoke to Thomas-Griffin and she said that “it’s not about money,’ supposedly, ‘it’s about liability.” He said he’s going to work with Sports Minister Sharie deCastro and send her some legislation about equine liability—which says all who participate in equine activity—they take on that responsibility. These are laws in St. Thomas said as well as in all the states, he doesn’t have a problem working with the people in the BVI to make things progressive.
Smith said however, the track had never had a liability issue before.
“I was a little disappointed to look at the history of what was published in our Daily News regarding my good friend Ellis, in terms of closing the track and creating issues and this looks like the same situation,” Watlington said. “I never talk to Marie Thomas-Griffin about what the situation is or Roderick (Thomas) who is a guy who has been around our race track in St. Thomas, to find out what the issue is. But if it’s a liability issue, I will assist. I respect everybody’s position and whatever I can do to help, I’m willing to help.”
Watlington thanked Smith and Denzil Clyne for their hospitality in accommodating them for the period that they have been in the BVI with the horses.
“It’s a disappointment to us. It’s an expense to us and we appreciate the hospitality,” he said.