By: Chris Lomon
Derek Chin has taken the movie and entertainment industry in Trinidad and Tobago to a whole new level. Now, the longtime racehorse owner is looking for a Hollywood-type blockbuster on the Ontario horse racing scene.
On a picture-perfect day in Port of Spain, the vibrant capital of Trinidad, the 63-year-old businessman and founder of MovieTowne, is just minutes away from heading a meeting at the company’s headquarters.
Since opening its doors 15 years ago, MovieTowne has become a big hit in the small country of just over 1.3 million people. The state-of-the-art cinemas boast elaborate decor, large screens, the latest technology, Dolby Digital Surround Sound and stadium-styled seating in amphitheater-designed settings.
The flagship enterprise at MovieTowne Port of Spain is one of the city’s hot spots for dining, shopping and live entertainment. Along with the cinema, there’s a Mediterranean-style courtyard mall, with 60-plus shops and restaurants, an outdoor dining and live entertainment area, a banquet/conference Centre, and The Carousel Park, featuring rides and outdoor activities for kids and families.
Add in Chin’s other thriving project, Streets of the World, which essentially takes the culture of a country and make streets out of them – along with the eight restaurants he owns – and it’s understandable he might not have much time to talk when you get him on the phone.
Yes, he’s busy, but never too busy – he says with a big laugh – to talk horse racing.
“My dad was very involved in horse racing,” recalled Chin, who accompanied his father on visits to the country’s racetracks nearly every weekend. “That experience, being around the horses and the racing, never leaves you. I was around 9 or 10 when I first introduced to horse racing.”
During his schooling days in Canada, Chin, born in Guyana, but raised in Trinidad, would put the books down and studying on hold for a few hours on Saturdays and Sundays to catch the races at the Woodbine.
And, just as he did in Trinidad, he stood as close to the action as he could.
“I went Trinity College in Port Hope and then I went to the University of Western Ontario in London,” noted Chin. “I lived in Toronto for about 15 years in the 70s and 80s. When I was in university, I would always go to the racetrack and I enjoyed watching (trainer) Laurie Silvera’s horses, and watching great jockeys like George Ho Sang and Sandy Hawley ride. I always looked at them from a distance because I was shy.”
Eventually, Chin mustered up the courage to introduce himself to the conditioner and riders.
It was through those eventual friendships that Chin would join the ranks of thoroughbred ownership.
“Laurie and I bought a filly by Highland Ruckus named Island Allure,” he said. “He got me involved. I was able to get my shyness out of the way and we bought a horse together. He became my trainer. From 2000 onward, I would buy horses, about two or three a year. Slowly, but surely, I would have one or two winners. If the horses didn’t do well at Woodbine, I would bring them back to Trinidad and they would race there. Some of them did very well. From about 2004, I always had a small number of horses.”
That all changed at the end of last year.
With the 2017 Woodbine season out of the gates, Chin’s eye-catching yellow and hot pink silks – a perfect representation of the owner’s unabashed love for racing – will be on display more than ever before, with Kevin Attard training.
“We have five at the track right now and five two-year-olds that came out of Ocala,” he said. “This year, by June or July, we could have about 9 or 10 in training. I’m excited. I think it will be a good year.”
Chin’s biggest star to date is Trini Brewnette, a daughter of Milwaukee Brew who won at first asking in August 2015. The bay filly also took top honours in the South Ocean Stakes on a cloudy November day two years ago, getting up to win by a nose in the $125,400 event.
Photo by Michael Burns/WEG
“Last year was tougher, but it doesn’t change your love for the horses or racing,” said Chin, who had 10 top-three finishes from 36 starts in 2016. “I want to increase my investment in racing in Ontario. I continue to go to the sales. My goal is to win the Queen’s Plate or a Woodbine Oaks one of these days. I dream like everyone else does.”
Even in the busiest of times overseeing his businesses, Chin can’t resist – even for a few moments – imagining what it would feel like to win one of Canada’s marquee races.
“I want to show that I can compete against the best,” said Chin, who was the Trinidad and Tobago Racing Authority chairman in 2010 and 2011. “My knowledge of racing is over 40 years. I love the racing in Canada. I would love one day to win a big race and be able to say that I come from a small island in the Caribbean, but I’ve won against the biggest and the best. It would be a crowning achievement for me.”
In just over three weeks Chin will be back in Toronto, the place he calls home for four months each year.
When live racing is on at Woodbine, he’ll be there, a chance to catch up with old friends, make a few new ones, and watch his horses in action.
And when he sees his flashy yellow and pink silks, he’ll wonder which one could script his horse racing fairytale.
“It’s a challenge to be successful in what I consider to be great racing,” said Chin. “Ontario offers me that springboard to hopefully one day see that dream come true.”