By Dean “The Sportsman” Greenaway
There’s a man for every job and BVI Horse Racing Association President Lesmore Smith, was the right man for the job of reviving horse racing in the territory.
The Boxing Day card that featured four 7 Furlong races and one over 6½ Furlongs, each with a $5000 purse, were the first race in the territory since June 17, 2017. Since then, the floods of August 7, 2017, damaged the track surface when the ghut between the winners circle and the grand stands overflowed and wiped out the annual August Festival races for the first time since the Ellis Thomas Downs in opened in 1998.
A month later, Hurricane Irma destroyed the facility including the grand stands. The ever optimistic Smith, made a valiant effort to have horse racing back to mark the 20thanniversary of the facility’s opening with the 2018 August Festival races, but faced insurmountable challenges. Despite the setback, Smith said he didn’t lose hope nor faith, but continued to push forward.
“I took a leap of faith all alone, made a lot of effort with countless energy to make it what it will be on December 26,” he said before the races. “I think it’s going to be a good day for all of us in the Virgin Islands. I think it’s going to be a good family reunion after we have gone through so much levels of disasters over the last year. We’ve lost a lot of family, friends and loved ones. I would love all of us to meet in good spirit and good harmony and greeting each other. We’ve come a long way and must be appreciative for God’s grace in being good to us for sparing our lives to see yet the closing of another year.”
On race day, several hundred fans from St. Thomas joined their BVI counterparts at the Ellis Thomas Downs, for the first races in 18 months. St. Thomas’ Totally Evil extended his winning streak to eight with another victory over Governor’s Cup champ Giant Valley, in the Boxing Day feature race, a 6½ Furlongs sprint for $5000 in honor of Mark Simmonds.
“It was a good race and I just wanted him to get a good break and not get squeezed in the middle,” said Totally Evil’s trainer Michael “Lou Lou” Smith, after his stallion took control of the race from the gate with Giant Valley and stable mate Player’s Luck in his debut, but neither could gain on Totally evil, who strode through a one minute and 22.2 victory over Giant Valley. “After that, I guess he was feeling good today, so he went out and did is thing. I expected him to get in front, so I wanted to make sure he had enough left so he wouldn’t be caught in the end. He hasn’t lost here yet, so we expect to keep the streak going.”
Totally Evil owner and St. Thomas Horsemen Association President Clinton “Boogie” Hedrington Jr., said it feels good to extend the streak, but he instead, praised Giant Valley owner, Lesmore Smith, for putting on the races.
“We came here twice to check him out to see what he was doing and I was shocked to see what he had going on here (after Hurricane Irma) and for him to do it by himself, I really want to big him up and it’s more than the sport,” Hedrington Jr. said. “And, it comes from the heart, which is really good. Outside of Totally Evil beating him up, I like to see what he did today. Congratulations to Lesmore and everybody that came out.”
Smith who invested his own funds to ensure the races came off after missing his August Festival goal, said he was very relieved that the races came off.
“St. Thomas checked on me and I think that the spirit they showed encouraged me to go further and make it a reality, because they really supported me,” he noted, adding that the crowd support was awesome. “Not because of the investment I’ve made, but because of the lives that have been touched across the Virgin Islands, to know they can unite, have fun for one day, that made the difference.”
Being able to pull off the races Smith said, opens the door and shows that they can make it and don’t have to depend solely on government.
“We have the energy, we have the tenacity, we have the resilience in ourselves and we only have to believe in ourselves and it can happen,” he said.
Prior to the feature race, Smith’s Lunch Break ended St. Thomas horses streak of victories in the fourth of the 7 Furlong races, held in memory of Angel “Scratchie” Malone, when stable mate Moonlight Bandit made it a 1-2 finish. Lunch Break had a winning time of 1:31.4. St. Thomas’ Flashing Cat was the show horse followed by DQ Rester.
In other races, St. Thomas’ Gus Is Tuff laid off the pace set by debutant Uncle Mace in the first 7 Furlong race in memory of Ellis Thomas, as My Song Venezuela charged for the lead. But over the last 2 Furlongs, Gus Is Tuff ran past the leaders in then held off Queen Grave by a nose to win in 1:34.2 after passing the half in 51.1. My Song Venezuela of St. Thomas finished its debut in third place and early leader Uncle Mace was fourth. Jack Fallon of St. Thomas was scratched.
Hayley’s Here had a gate to wire victory in leading a St. Thomas sweep of the second race on the card, the Axel Ritter 7 Furlongs sprint. Hayley’s Here walked away from the field for a four lengths victory over Irish Smarty. He covered the course in 1:32.2. St. Thomas’ Jordan Salsa was third with Tortola’s Sailor’s Companion fourth. Lil Fool of St. Thomas placed fifth in the race featuring debuting horses.
With St. Thomas’ Unknown who was scheduled to debut in the Eileene Parsons 7 Furlongs third race scratching, it became a duel between fellow debutant Nadiaes Image and Adios Chick, as they traded places in different points in the race. Nadiaes Image who passed the half in 51 flat, sprinted away from his rival for a seven lengths victory in 1:33.1.