That almost child-like sense of wonder and enthusiasm. It’s the hallmark of a deep love for and interest in a particular topic, and when Clovis Metcalfe talks about horses and horse racing, one can hear it immediately and distinctly, with a sense of righteous (read “humble”) pride mixed in.
It’s a sense that is virtually innate for Metcalfe, and it came to the fore during his childhood days. The young Clovis would accompany his father, by train, to a racetrack near the town of Old Harbour, known as Little Marlie (unknown to many Jamaicans, the popularity of horseracing in Jamaica was such that up to the mid-1900s, there were several racetracks across the island).
There, he was greatly impressed by, and admired the spectacle of the sport: the colours, the flurry of activity and the horses themselves. Thus initiated, that bond would be strengthened through his high school days at St George’s, where on breaks he would allow himself to be enthralled by listening to the great racing commentators of yesteryear.
Even in his fledgling ventures into what would be his other great career, banking, Metcalfe continued his fealty to horseracing, making regular weekend trips, this time to Caymanas Park (opened in 1959).
“In those days,” he recalled, “the bank would actually open on Saturdays, but soon as it closed, myself and several of my colleagues, we would be heading out to the track.”
It was, in fact, one of his bank customers, the proprietors of a betting shop called Maurice’s (they would soon become friends), who started conversations with Metcalfe about actually becoming horse owners. That eventually led to a partnership with the likes of Billy Williams and Maxie Morrison, among others and shortly after, with the late Joe Duany, known far and wide as “Fudgie” for whom I’m Satisfied was a popular Jamaican Triple Crown winner.
With the establishment of the HAM Stables, in partnership with Howard Hamilton and trainer Phillip Feanny, Metcalfe would enjoy some of his greatest moments in the sport including having horses win the Triple Crown, the Gold Cup and the Superstakes. He speaks in glowing terms of the legendary trainer (14-time Champion) and his ability to spot future greats.
Indeed, Metcalfe’s humility may preclude him from mentioning, but as of 2022, his name resounds about the track in significant way: the Clovis Metcalfe Trophy, an Open Allowance race, will be an annual fixture, courtesy of racing promoters Supreme Ventures Racing and Entertainment (SVREL), wisely deciding to “give Metcalfe his flowers” as the saying goes, whilst he is alive and well to receive them.
Metcalfe’s love for the sport and concern for its development continues even as he transitioned into administration, initially as a Board member of the former CTL, and to his current posts as Chair of both the Betting Gaming and Lotteries Commission (BGLC) and The Jamaica Racing Commission (JRC). Having regulatory oversight of both horse racing and the betting activity, which is its lifeblood, gives Metcalfe a well-informed perspective on this extremely valuable sector of the nation’s economic and social life. It provides particular insight indeed, what with over 30,000 people either directly or indirectly involved in horseracing (from grooms and farriers to veterinary staff, jockeys, trainers, owners and more). The BGLC also regulates another 30,000 gaming machines and terminals across the island.
It’s a diverse, demanding portfolio and it calls for a specific set of values. The BGLC team bundles them in the acronym TRAIT: Teamwork, Respect, Accountability, Integrity and Transparency. For Metcalfe, however, these are more than corporate markers – they are his collective personal calling card.
“Functioning as we do, making recommendations to Government, providing for the smooth running of these very important contributor industries and facing the public in several ways, integrity and transparency are critical aspects of how we operate, and I take that commitment personally.”
One aspect of that commitment, especially in relation to the racing fraternity and the public at large, lies in giving back. Events like the BGLC Emancipation Race Day, with its 19th renewal on Tuesday, August 1, 2023 provides the organization with an opportunity to demonstrate its support for the industry, both tangibly in purses, and socially, in welcoming fans and punters to experience some of that same thrill that hooked the young Metcalfe in his formative years.
These days, the enjoyment is not to be had only at Caymanas, or indeed, only in Jamaica. With punters (largely Jamaican connections) in New York and Canada now receiving the signal, and with simulcasting to the myriad off-track locations across the island, Jamaican horse racing, and the betting that supports it, is growing by ‘lengths.’
Metcalfe is confident of the regulator’s ability to keep pace, and to further strengthen its oversight capacity over the combined industries. This also includes the ongoing process of negotiating partnerships with organizations such as HEART Trust, to provide certifications to jockeys and other service personnel.
Ultimately, the ongoing mission of the BGLC is to ensure a safe, integral, rules-based environment in which members of the public can experience the unmatched thrills of not only the “Sport of Kings” but the related thrills of wagering and gaming.
It’s easy to keep talking with him. That almost child-like sense of wonder and enthusiasm is refreshing – unique attribute, indeed, of this ‘horse…man for all seasons.’