This horse has a name, Ska, so take that America (the band, not the country)! I came across this article that was written during the summer of 1964, when ska was all over the Daily Gleaner after finally being accepted by the colonial newspaper. Apparently, ska was such a rage that owner Jacques Deschamps named his horse after the genre! It got me thinking about Jamaican music and the horses. I’ve previously written about Jamaican music and boxing, which you can read about here, and there is definitely affair between the Jamaican culture and boxing, but there is also one between the Jamaican culture and horse racing.
Perhaps the most well-known song about a race horse is that classic, “Longshot Kick De Bucket,” by the Pioneers. Before this song was made, the Pioneers recorded their song “Longshot (Buss Me Bet)” which was written by Lee “Scratch” Perry, according to Dave Thompson in his book, Reggae & Caribbean Music, and was produced by Joe Gibbs. This racehorse, Long Shot, had a long career, yet never won. “He gallop, he gallop, he gallop, but he couldn’t buss [bust] the tape.”
Their more popular sequel, “Longshot Kick De Bucket,” was about that same horse and begins with the same horse track trumpet call. According to Kevin O’Brien Chang and Wayne Chen, it was producer Leslie Kong (Beverley’s) who first heard about the death of Long Shot and so he had the Pioneers write and record a song about it and it was not only an immediate hit, but it has been covered many times over, namely by The Specials, as a staple of Jamaican music. The song references Caymanas Park which is the popular horse track in Kingston. The lyrics tell of the death of Long Shot, and the details of his death are told here, in this article I found in the Daily Gleaner on April 1, 1969, along with a photo of Long Shot! There he is folks, before he kick de bucket! And here’s Rameses who also met his demise that same week. The article states this horse was voted the “Horse of 1968.” Naturally, he became the subject of the Pioneers “Poor Rameses,” which has a similar sound to their previous horse homages. A post mortem conducted on Rameses revealed that he died of a heart attack. There is a trophy called the Rameses Trophy which is named in his honor and is still awarded today at Caymanas Park.
Yet another Jamaican music and horse race connection comes with Vincent Edwards, better known as King Edwards, who ran a sound system with his bother George called The Giant. It was one of the big three sound systems along with Coxsone Dodd’s Downbeat and Duke Reid’s The Trojan. But did you know that King Edwards was also involved in horse racing? Today, King Edwards is the president of the Jamaica Racehorse Trainers Association (JRTA). In an interview with Michael Turner and Brad Klein in February 2013, King Edwards told him of his work with horses. “I’m a politician. And a race horse trainer. I’m training horses now. For forty nine years. Even when I was a member of Parliament I was a trainer,” Edwards said. You can read the entire interview here, and I would recommend you do—it’s fantastic!
There have been plenty of songs referencing horses and horse racing over the years, including “Race Horse Touter” by Leon Wint which was later covered by Ranking Roger, and “Horse Race” by Derrick Morgan and Neville Brown. There were horse songs full of innuendo like “Small Horse Woman,” “Horse Tonic,” “Ride a Cock Horse,” and “Ride a Wild Horse.” There were horse songs full of metaphor like “Death Rides a Horse,” “Selassie Rides a White Horse,” and “Can’t Flog a Dead Horse.” Then of course, there was the record label called Horse, a sublabel of Trojan Records, appropriately!