Grey Magazine: The Upper Kingdom

I am a contributing writer for New York-based Grey Magazine, a biannual hard back publication featuring an unconventional and artistically minded take on fashion, beauty, fiction, poetry, reportage, essays and art that elevates culture at large into a visual prose.



The Upper Kingdom

You first met Spencer Chung nearly a year ago through a friend who assured you that he was the young don of Caribbean horse racing. At just 40 years old, he had already produced a record-breaking filly, St. Cecelia, named after his grandmother who was a first generation Jamaican-Chinese shop owner. On a sun-bleached Saturday, you rode with your friend to Caymanas Park, located in Portmore, about an 11-mile drive from downtown Kingston, and watched your first horserace in Jamaica with Spencer. Post race, he showed you the lay of the land and the fascinating and bittersweet universe surrounding a life lived on the track.

You kept in touch and one year later Spencer invited you to the biggest race next to the Derby, the Super Stakes, held in early November. His horse Typewriter was running in the Super and St. Cecelia would be competing in the Sprint Championship; there were 13 races in total scheduled for that day. It would be St. Cecelia’s last race, her “last hurrah” according to The Sunday Observer, as she was 7 now and ready to retire and begin breeding. It was going to be a big day for Spence, the kind of feast or famine reckoning he’d been preparing for all year. His seven-day-a-week, 4a.m. call times at the stables would either garner him a healthy war chest or leave him with an empty coffer. Speaking with him on the phone, you could taste his anticipation from 1,500 miles away.

You hop the 2a.m. flight from JFK to Norman Manley with the photographer, and arrive early on Friday morning to a see a heathery mist settling over the city of Kingston. Welcome to the bible isle, the spice isle, you think, reminding yourself of the ubiquitous presence of Jamaican culture the world over despite the island’s small size. That evening you meet Spence for dinner at The Regency Bar at the Terra Nova Hotel and are surprised by how calm and sociable he is considering the weight of the day that lies ahead. Thirteen races. Seven horses in competition. A 4.5 million Jamaican dollar purse. He assures you that he’s ready for tomorrow, and tells you it’s best to arrive at the track early if you want to capture the full spectrum of the Super Stakes. As Spencer drives you back to the apartment where you are staying, there is a shift in his mood and as if he has emigrated to a more private side of himself. “You only get one chance,” he says, watching the road ahead. “It could be the lowest of the lows or the highest of the highs…it’s a once a year thing.”