The Origins of Horse racing on Nevis.
By Clare Yearwood
The Nevis Turf and Jockey Club are celebrating its 45th Anniversary. As horse racing is my favourite sport, I have decided to look in to the origins of horse racing on Nevis. The more I thought about it, the less I knew about its origins, so I decided to seek out two major players, Mr. Arthur Evelyn and Mr. Spencer Howell, past and present members, in order to pick their brains.
Arthur Evelyn started his career in horse racing as a jockey at the age of twelve in the early nineteen forties at Madden’s Estate. This was not the first track on Nevis, the first track according to his father, Aubrey, was on the land that now houses the Airport, in the early thirties; The one and only race meet was held at Madden’s every August. It was a loose organisation and included Aubrey, his son Philip, Hugh King, the father of Michael King, the present owner and Director of T.D.C, who lived in Nevis and J.O. Maloney. J.O. as he was fondly known as, owned Forthergill’s estate, where he planted Sea Island cotton and had his own Ginnery.
Arthur rode “Banker” and “Sawdust” and George Jeffers rode “Starlight” who belonged to Aubrey, over a distance of three furlongs on a course shaped like a horse shoe! Very appropriate, but not very practical. There were twelve to fifteen horses, three to four in each race, entered for six races altogether. The horses ran twice, as the course was so short. These horses were not just used for racing; they were a mode of transport in those days. The jockeys would practise on the track before race day, which caused great interest within the community and served as a reminder of the up and coming race meet. The jockeys had colours, Arthur wore gold and blue, they had caps, but not padded and re-enforced as they are today.
There were no Sponsors or Trophies, and the Gate which cost sixpence (the equivalent of 12 cents today) was divided out between the winners. A good crowd would number two hundred and fifty, so on a decent day Arthur would take home EC$ 2.40 and be proud of it. “It was the sport that counted; the fun of it all”, he said. Vendors sold sugar cakes and there was much side betting with emotions running high.
In the early to mid forties the racetrack moved to Indian Castle, not to where it is now, but as you drive down the road on the left-hand side, where all the Brahmin cattle graze. This move was prompted by the desire for a longer racetrack. The same people and organisers moved with the track with the addition of Dr. Lake, who was a leading light. Also the Chadderton family from Round Hill, Ellis Chadderton, a grandson, has only recently retired from racing with his two plucky local horses called “Cream Boy” and “Dash” and not forgetting the Henry’s from Camps. All these people would ride their horses from the other side of the island on race day and still manage to ride in six races over a now five furlong track.
Interest began to wane, as most of the above mentioned people went to live in St. Kitts, and ran their horses at the new racecourse at Pond’s Pasture. After a break of five or six years, racing started up again at Butlers in a somewhat disorganised fashion, by a group of people, who wanted to run their horses for recreational purposes and for the fun of it. The track was an Estate road leading from the sea up to the main road; it was extremely rough “going” and stretched for about four furlongs. This was the first time that donkeys were included in their own separate races. There was no Gate and no winnings so needless to say this was a short-lived era in the history of horse racing.
After another break everyone moved back to Newcastle, to the original racecourse. This area was where Alfred Skeete had the “Bambooshay”, which used to be a recreation centre and a Mecca for dancing. After a few years, Mary Pomeroy, who owned Nisbetts, began pressing for an airstrip, so the race course moved, yet again, to upper Round hill to a paddock owned by the Chaddertons. Normally this paddock was used to house cattle, so every race meet the fencing had to be taken down and put back again. It was a round track where the horses disappeared behind some bushes out of view; they usually reappeared in a completely different order than when last seen!! Each race had its own name, such as “The Pony Scurry” “The Conceit” and “The Knockout”.
Arthur Evelyn was a starter and William Dore and Lofton France were jockeys, to name but a few. They are both still involved in the Club today. Gypsy Lloyd Webbe owned six horses and made up half the field, with well-known horses such as “Terry”, and “Ground Dove”. Sometimes Gypsy’s horses were late, as they had been ridden from Brown Hill, a good eight miles away, on arrival they would ride straight onto the course and the race would begin immediately.
It was here at Round Hill that the “Nevis Turf and Jockey Club” was founded in 1968. Mr. Wilton Angoy, who was recruited by the Government in St. Kitts to establish the Nevis Local Council, was instrumental in assisting with the constitution of the Nevis Turf and Jockey Club. Mr. Arthur Evelyn became the first President, a position he held for sixteen years, Mr. Spencer Howell was the first secretary and Mrs. Cicely Grell-Hull was the first treasurer.
“Mate of Mine” a thoroughbred stallion from Trinidad, the first on Nevis, was given to the Club by the Trestrail Family from St. Kitts. Half bred horses started to make an appearance. Arthur Evelyn bought a thoroughbred mare, “Annette”’ from Dr. Lake and raced her against Gypsy’s famous horse “Tiborong”.
The club realised that they needed a permanent home and moved to Lowground, where the Delta Petroleum is located today. Lowground was leased from the Government, it was a circular longer track, partially railed and with a wooden grandstand. The gate money increased and sponsors and trophies were introduced again. Some of the races were staggered starts, depending on the calibre of the horse. This course was rather accident prone so the club relocated to Brown Hill.
Spencer Howell’s father, John, owned an Estate at Mordens and agreed to an area for an uphill racetrack of five furlongs. Hubert Brand of the Nevis Bakery imported a thoroughbred from Trinidad, but Gypsy continued to dominate racing with his horses trained and ridden by Spencer Howell.
One of the problems of the Brown Hill course was its inaccessibility, so the club moved back to Indian Castle across the road from the existing Racetrack. It was at this point that Roosevelt Daniel made his presence known. After a few years the Government needed the paddock space and shifted the track across the road to the present Racecourse
Location, which is the Club’s permanent home today. The land is now finally held: by a secure lease from the Government.
The races have gathered momentum over the years and have gone from strength to strength. Horseracing has become a top sport on Nevis, a Tourist attraction and has a huge following. There are twelve meets a year with fine looking thoroughbreds on a well maintained track, once described by an upmarket English magazine, “as one of the most beautiful tracks in the world”. A new parade ring sits opposite a newly erected grandstand sporting boxes. Vendors still sell their wares and there is always a delicious smell of chicken wafting through the air.
The Nevis Turf and Jockey Club has always been a voluntary organisation and are still to this day. It is not for the faint hearted! Horseracing is an emotional business, but I am quite sure that it will continue to give endless pleasure for many years to come.