Features — 17 November 2018 — by Bilal Morris
FINLEY BISHOP! BELIZE’S KENTUCKY DERBY!

Growing up on Racecourse Street in Belize City, Belize, in the 1960s as a boy, “The Bishops” were a big time Belizean family clan of proud Belizean folks who gave us one of Belize’s finest horse racing jockeys of all times — the Warrior King, Finley Bishop. Not only was Finley one of the best jockeys that this country has ever seen in its entire history of Belizean horse racing in the 1970s, but he also went on after being dominant in Belizean horse racing to work behind the scenes of some of the big horse tracks in the United States after his migration from Belize.

We can still hear the legendary Belizean sportscaster, Bernard Aguet, bringing to Belizeans countrywide that smooth but exciting horserace sportscasting through Radio Belize. Aguet’s voice goes, “And the horses are at the starting gate…and they are off!” This is when the names of Finley Bishop, Ashley James, Nick Hernandez, Richard “Charro” Ramirez, the Cattouse Brothers, Lightburn, “Stama,” and all these big names in Belizean horse racing are heard in some of the most exciting ways you can imagine.

Like Belizean softball at Rogers Stadium and MCC Grounds in the 1970s, Belizean horse racing at the former Belize National Stadium, aka “Horse Track”, was a spectacular sport to see, as these racing jockey gladiators like Finley Bishop and his childhood neighbor and friend, Ashley James, battled against each other to win the coveted prizes. Bishop and James lived on the same street and were from the same neighborhood on Racecourse Street in Belize City. Their rivalry was most passionate during their competitive years as two of the best Belizean jockeys of the 1970s. Maybe that is why the street that they both grew up on was to be called, “Racecourse Street”!

Finley stood out as a talkative Belizean athlete that would challenge all of his competitors in the sport. Though he always rocked that friendly smile we see here on this memorable photo that was shared with me by another Belizean horse racing athlete of the time, Kenny Horace Stuart, Finley was nothing to play with when he mounted the horses and manhandled them to stay still in the gates before the takeoff. There were even verbal exchanges between him and James on the block in sportsmanlike character, challenging each other as to who was the best on the track. We as boys hearing the conversations would become so very excited as to see two athletes who actually rode horses in some of the most dueling Belizean horse races ever among us. Ashley James himself was one of the most skillful riders that has ever trained and ridden Belizean horses in championship horse racing in Belize. And it was a proud thing for many of us who came from that ‘hood and knew them both, to either go see them race, or to listen to them do their thing after the big talk on the block. Those two Belizean jockeys made the Racecourse Street posse proud that they came from there.

My high school buddy, Casmond Middleton, later on in 1978 introduced me to the inner circles of what goes on behind the scenes of horse training and racing being that Casmond’s father had a horse named Black Beauty that he had to attend to after school at “Horse Track”. It was there that yours truly came close up to watch Finley Bishop, Ashley James, and others, training the horses that they later raced against each other. Watching those thoroughbreds speeding around that track being handled by these Belizean men, who were like supermen to me and sitting fearlessly in the saddles while pushing these powerful horses around the track, was one of the most amazing things to me.

Seeing Finley Bishop, Ashley James, Nick Hernandez, The Cattouse Brothers, and “Stama” race the best of Belizean race horses of the 1970s, like, Lady Alice, Sir Jude, Black Beauty, Majestic Prince, and many more, is something that must be seen rather than heard on “Radio Belize”.

It’s historic today to reflect on that spirit of horse racing that once was Belize. Horse racing in Belize became a tradition that created sports entertainment, as well as well as live gambling in Belize’s own version of “Kentucky Derby”. Belizeans at that time, marveled at this legendary American horse racing legend through short wave radio, but had their own version at home.

As Finley Bishop returns his racehorse from around the track after his big win on a Sunday afternoon at “Horse Track”, you can see the big thick drops of sweat coming off the horse as it blows ferociously through its nostrils. It was fascinating to watch that close up as Bishop, dressed in black and white racing boots and rocking a colorful crimson and gold jersey, jogs the amazing horse back to its stable.

Googling “Finley Bishop” on the internet recently, the following find came up presenting an article titled, “Kirkpatrick & Co. Presents In their Care” ‘Scalo Sings And Listens.’ It reads: “Paulick Report is introducing a new monthly feature by Tom Pedulla, ‘Kirkpatrick & Co. Presents In their Care, a behind-the-scene look at some of the men and women who work in anonymity on the backstretch of racetracks across the country but play an integral role in the sport. Exercise rider Finley Bishop has no vision…” Quite excited when Kenny shared the find of Bishop with me on my inbox, my mind raced ahead on the incredible Belizean racehorse jockey that Finley Bishop was, and that his love for the sport of horse racing had continued after his migration from Belize.

(Photo and storyline through the courtesy of Belizean horse trainer and jockey, Kenny Horace Stewart)

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