The beauty of Barbados

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Editor’s Note: We didn’t make it to Barbados (again) this past weekend for the annual extravaganza that is the Sandy Lane Barbados Gold Cup but we enlisted our friends at the Horse Racing Radio Network to provide some on-site post-race commentary about the sights and sounds of the event. HRRN’s Jude Feld, a veteran of the Gold Cup and unabashed fan of Barbados, sets the scene.

Ernest Hemingway said, “Write drunk. Edit sober.”

No matter how dubious the request, a Clancy brother will have to edit this.

I’ve been drinking rum from the Foursquare distillery since I woke up at 6 a.m. Sunday morning. There is nothing I like more than having rum in my morning coffee when I am in the Caribbean. Sir David Seale sent us home with a case of Doorlys X-O and a case of R.L. Seale’s Finest as parting gifts after we interviewed him Thursday afternoon. If there is a more gracious man on the planet or a better ambassador for Thoroughbred racing in Barbados, I have no knowledge of them.

Sir David has won what is now known as the Sandy Lane Barbados Gold Cup six times, and his stunning wife, Lady Anne, once, for a record seven family victories in the Caribbean’s most coveted race. It was Chou Chou Royale’s victory in the 1993 Gold Cup that began my love affair with the tiny island nation of Barbados and its resident’s enthusiastic appreciation for the magnificent sport of Thoroughbred racing.

Watching an ESPN broadcast of that 1993 event by Chris Lincoln, from my home on Rancho San Patricio in Bradbury, California, I was awestruck at the city of Bridgetown, the rabid fans, the 6-furlong turf course, the clockwise racing and the ride Hall of Famer Sandy Hawley gave Chou Chou Royale for the great trainer Scobie Breasley.

I vowed at the end of the broadcast that I would go to the Barbados Gold Cup – long before a “bucket list” was popular.

Through a surprising series of life events, I was able to attend the Sandy Lane Barbados Gold Cup in 1998. It would change my life forever. From the minute I exited the plane at Grantley Adams airport, I felt amazingly at peace, like I had returned home, even though it was a place I had never been.

Barbados is unique. It smells fresh and clean and sweet. The people are unbelievably gracious, kind and welcoming. They are beautiful, really, in every sense of the word.

“We mix.” Sir David says. “There is no prejudice.”

I met a Bajan girl at the track. She took my picture with the winners’ circle in the background. We went to the Turf Club and drank rum punches. Federico won the Gold Cup with Simon Husbands in the saddle. (Yes, he is Patrick’s brother.) It was one of the best days of my life. Lesley and I have been friends ever since. This is how Barbados works. No pressure. No expectations. Just pleasure and fun.

That experience was it for me. I was in – hook, line and sinker.

Sean Clancy always says to me when I eschew the sunscreen, “You think you’re from Barbados, but you’re not.” He is right, of course, but I always beg to differ. I extoll the virtues of Barbados on a daily basis and the island is always on my mind and in my heart.

More surprising events led to Horse Racing Radio Network’s adventure to broadcast the Gold Cup. Mike Penna and I are staying near Gulfstream Park for the Championship Meet this winter. We were discussing guests for our “Trainer Talk” shows one afternoon and I tell him I want to interview Saffie Joseph Jr. He’s young, handsome, smart and has trained a Barbados Triple Crown winner. Mike is all in and gets Saffie to agree to do the show.

Saffie is great radio. His Bajan accent. His light demeanor. His horsemanship. His humor.

We finish up recording and he says, “You guys should go to Barbados and do the Gold Cup on the radio. Let me make a couple of calls.”

About 60 hours later, Horse Racing Radio Network is going to broadcast the 2016 Sandy Lane Barbados Gold Cup.

As Vin Scully would say, “Amazing.”

Fast forward to March 2. Mike and his wife Michelle and my wife Gretchen and me, are booked on a flight in Miami, courtesy of Barbados Tourism and the Barbados Turf Club. We have so much luggage – mostly radio equipment and Double Diamond Farm and Embrace The Race swag, that it creates havoc at the Miami airport – not uncommon evidently – but eventually we are boarded and on our way for an early arrival in Barbados. After clearing customs, and a purchase of two bottles of Foursquare Spiced at Duty Free, Patrick, our cab driver, loads our gear and off we go to the Oleander Apartments in Worthing, aka HRRN headquarters for the rest of the week.

Five minutes into the trip, I spy a green monkey on a wall along the road and announce him to the group, none of whom have been to Barbados before. The monkey seems to be a good omen and we all enjoy the exotic experience.

Patrick drops us off without mishap and the rest of the day is sun, beach, Caribbean Sea and rum, with a walk down to Mojo’s for dinner and Banks beer.

Everybody is up early Thursday to head to historic Garrison Savannah racecourse. Having driven in Barbados, where you drive on the left, I am elected to be the chauffer. Just a quarter-mile from the apartment, I clip the curb and pop the tire.

“Wanna get away?”

Mike and Michelle grab the radio equipment and catch a bus to the track, while G and I wait for Richard, our rent-a-car guy, to come and bail us out of the mess. He is there quickly, changes the tire like he’s a member of an Indy pit crew and off we go to the Garrison.

Rosette Peirce is the CEO of the Barbados Turf Club. She is the wife of trainer Robert Peirce. Remember that. She takes care of everything we need – has her team at our beck and call. Everything is perfection.

The Internet line is run. The sound feed is set. The location secured.

“Let’s do this!”

Thursday afternoon we head to Four Square Distillery – Sir David Seale’s rum company. He is the president of the Barbados Turf Club and its all-time leading owner. The man knighted by The Queen walks us over to the bottling plant at the distillery and we sit down in this beautiful room surround by award-winning rums in gorgeous bottles and “the before” pictures as Sir David refers to his ancestors photos on the wall.

Mike and I have been excited to do this interview for days.

The recorder is not working.

Mike says the batteries are dead. Michelle wants to “punch him in the face,” and really, so do I.

After a few minutes of nightmare, it turns out that Mike forgot to toggle a little switch. We are good to go.

Sir David is un-rattled and forgiving and also a star. The interview is a moonshot. The man is amazing.

Friday, we check and recheck everything. Rosette’s team is top drawer. We record a few interviews and the first international broadcast by Horse Racing Radio Network seems like a reality.

There is a pre-Gold Cup party at Garrison Savannah Friday night. Human races, amateur horse races called “scurries,” and more rum and Banks beer than you can imagine. People from all over the world are there – Great Britain, the U.S., Jamaica, Canada, St. Lucia, Guyana, St. Kitts and a gazillion folks from Trinidad. Everyone is happy to be there and looking forward to Gold Cup day.

American owner Ken Ramsey, who has won the race the last two years, is signing autographs and the place is electric.

Ramsey’s exercise rider, Mattie Martin, wins an exhibition race Friday night, with me praying for her welfare the whole time – about 4 furlongs on a short track – she wins by plenty. Mike and Gretchen get their picture taken in the winners’ circle with Ramsey momentarily leading the winner in, until he realizes it’s not his horse, despite the fact that Mattie is sporting a Ramsey helmet cover.

Saturday morning I wake up at 3:30. There is no way I will go back to sleep. It is Gold Cup day! I make some coffee, avoid the rum bottles and record each entrant’s last three Beyer Speed Figures on my program. I make my own speed figures for Barbados, using the Beyer methodology, and on a visit a few years ago, I took down the whole guaranteed pool with a single pick 4 ticket, so of course I had to chase a tad, although the card seemed pretty chalky.

We leave Oleander at 7 a.m. and head to the Garrison. When we arrive, the parking lot is locked. Ugh!

We park along the wall of the racing office with the approval of Mr. Mohommed Mohamad, a racing official, and lug our equipment upstairs. Within minutes Mike has our lines run, Michelle has everything working and we are set to do our Equine Forum show. It will be the first time HRRN has broadcast from a foreign land.

The content is excellent, the Internet is solid, the show is crisp and at the end, I say, “Good night, Barbados,” from Barbados – just what our listeners have been clamoring for.

For the opening of the Sandy Lane Gold Cup coverage, we had Saffie read our teaser – an overview of Barbados and Garrison Savannah. He was brilliant. If that didn’t hook listeners, we might as well give up radio. Our first international race broadcast was off and running.

Remember, I had been to the Gold Cup before, so I knew what to expect on the day, but Mike, Michelle and Gretchen couldn’t have had any idea what they were about to witness, even though I had tried to describe what defies explanation.

The deafening crowd noise, the jam-packed grandstand, the fans along the fence that can actually touch the horses if they are crazy enough, the marching bands and the dancing girls in the pre-race parade, led by two guys on stilts, carrying a pink and gold Sandy Lane Hotel banner – it must be experienced. There are no words.

As always in horse racing, the unforeseen happened.

There was an inquiry in the second race that took half an hour for “no change.”

In a later race, two jocks fell off their mounts in a weird turn of events that evolved into two broken wrists and a wait for the ambulances to return from the hospital.

And then, in another, a Chinese apprentice fell off after the finish line.

Post times are now about an hour behind.

Mike is such a pro. He is the reason Horse Racing Radio Network is the gold standard in our industry. On the fly, he reconfigured the show, with so many moving parts, including the Gotham Stakes from Aqueduct and three graded stakes at Gulfstream Park, and we never missed a beat.

We covered every bit of the Gold Cup experience – from the parade before to the race itself, and I sense that everyone who listened in felt like they were with us at Garrison Savannah in Bridgetown, Barbados.

Sandy Lane Gold Cup XXXV was awesome.

Saffie Joseph had selected Dorsett, an American horse, for his friend Robert Peirce to claim specifically for the race. Peirce, a two-time Gold Cup-winning trainer did his magic when the horse arrived in Barbados, and Dorsett waltzed home an easy winner of the Caribbean’s greatest race for his Trinidad-based ownership group – his first start for the new connections. Watchyourownbobber finished second in the Ramsey silks with Coolmore’s War Envoy third.

Saffie finds a nice horse for his friend. He hooks us up to broadcast the race. Robert prepares the horse perfectly. We broadcast Dorsett’s victory. There is no better way to illustrate the magical life in Barbados.

Sunday morning began with coffee and rum, a bacon and egg breakfast and some beach time – a biblical day of rest. We lifeguarded a widow, at her request, as she ventured into the Caribbean sea on her own. The water was amazing – a rainbow of blues and greens and black.

“It’s magnificent today,” I said as she walked up the sand after her swim.

“Absolutely!” she replied. “My late husband liked to say, ‘Barbados is like going to heaven, without having to die.’ “

And that’s the truth.