Dear Editor,

I write with frustration and disappointment over the current state of horse racing in the territory. This letter is to bring attention to the consequences of proposed legislation wrapped in eloquence and superlatives.

The “bush racing” Bill No. 33-0371, offers a temporary fix to allow “informal horse races of non-thoroughbred horses ridden by amateur jockeys.” While this legislation intends to soothe and alleviate a perceived wrong, ultimately it may hurt the restart of horse racing more than it helps.

In a coronavirus-prone environment, our priorities ought to be about community health and to safeguard the welfare of all our residents. We rely upon the sound judgment and decisions of our elected officials and those in authority to guide our paths. Therefore, we should take every precaution to remove the risk of setbacks and any derailment as we move closer to normalcy.

Equally important, how do you right a wrong by promoting that wrong?

Further, at this time, I believe that somehow our representatives’ time should be better spent shaping an outcome that would be mutually beneficial to all the parties. This effort will better serve to reset and redirect a definitive path towards professional horse racing locally.

Thoroughbred racing has evolved in the U.S. Virgin Islands. As a horse racing enthusiast, I have fond memories of the sport. I remember when there were no rails and no parimutuel.

I remember the promoters like the late Randall “Doc” James, Valmy Thomas, along with my brother Alvin and I, who never had the backings of corporations. Yet, we made tremendous sacrifices as promoters. Our own beliefs steadied our dedication and how we engaged ourselves in some aspect of the sport. I also vividly remember 25 years ago on a bright Sunday afternoon, the running of the Holstein Cup, an inter-island (by invitation) competition for thoroughbreds that met specified qualifications.

It yielded a record turnout of fans representing all three Virgin Islands backing hometown favorites Corporate Affair (STX), Super Due (STT), and Dixie Storm (BVI). As the event promoter, I was equally thrilled that a young Neville James operated the parimutuel. Our shared vision was to advance the horse racing industry as a viable economic engine, and as such, our contributions are undeniable.

2020 bush track racing is an oxymoron, a placebo and a hustle that distracts from the real prize. It will dull our shine as a Caribbean gem that promises endless possibilities for the sport in the region.

We have waited this long for movement on VIGL, Southland Gaming and the government to resolve their legal challenge. We can certainly wait a while longer. Truthfully, however, the Sports, Park, and Recreation commissioner offered the legislative committee an option for the government to resurface the Randall “Doc” James Racetrack on St. Croix in the interim. His offer makes sense and merits consideration.

We envision a horse racing industry that brings jobs and career, entrepreneurial and training opportunities. We fully understand how racinos are economic inducements that sustain the industry nationally.

The hard truth is that we desperately need our representatives to get behind the issue and fight for the future of the horse racing industry. Bush track racing is a fly in the ointment!

As our senators are poised to lower the bar on the horse racing industry by legitimizing bush track racing, they are simultaneously reducing citizens’ expectations of them.

— Former Sen. Carol M. Burke, a horse racing enthusiast, resides on St. Croix.