By Michael Burns
Almudena, Peruvian champion older mare in her native country in 2011, looks to make history when she becomes the first Peruvian-bred starter to take part in the Breeders' Cup World Championships. She will run Nov. 2 in $500,000 Breeders' Cup Marathon (gr. II) at Santa Anita Park.
A 5-year-old mare who also will be making her United States debut, Almudena arrived from South America in August with six victories from 18 starts, including wins in the 2010 Clasico Polla de Potrancas (Per-I) (Peruvian One Thousand Guineas) and last year's Clasico Presidente de La Republica (Per-II) over older males on the turf.
In her two most recent performances outside of Peru, Almudena was runner-up in the Gran Premio Criadores (Per-I) versus fillies and mares on dirt at Palermo and third in the Gran Premio 25 de Mayo (Per-I), the first of two Breeders'Cup Challenge races staged in Argentina earlier this year.
"We are very pleased and excited to be participating; she is a very noble mare," said Peruvian-based trainer Juan Suarez, brother-in-law of former Breeders' Cup winning jockey Fernando Toro and uncle of Almudena's jockey Jose Valdivia Jr., winner of the 2001 Breeders' Cup Mile (gr. IT) with French import Val Royal.
Luis Aragon, foreman to trainer Mike Harrington, welcomed Almudena weeks after her arrival this summer at Betfair Hollywood Park and has been handling the mare's training over the Inglewood track's synthetic surface in coordination with Suarez.
Bred in Peru by soccer player Claudio Pizarro, the German Bundesliga's all-time leading foreign scorer, Almudena completed her breeding at Lelio Balarezo's Haras Gina Santa Rosa and is campaigned by William Saba's Stud Manning. Saba is a fanatic follower of the former NFL Indianapolis Colts' and current Denver Broncos' quarterback Peyton Manning.
Stud Manning is among Peru's leading owners and in 2011 shattered the single-season record by wins in Peru under the tutelage of Suarez. Both owner and trainer teamed up to finish second in the 2009 Gran Premio Asociacion Latinoamericana de Jockey Clubes e Hipodromos (Brz-I) in Sao Paulo, Brazil, with Kentucky-bred Zeide Isaac.
Suarez, a perennial leading trainer in Peru, is considered among the winningest trainers in South America with over 7,300 victories since launching his career in 1980. In a joint effort with his nephew, former Kentucky trainer and now bloodstock agent Dante Zanelli Jr., he trained Kentucky-bred and Peruvian dual classic winner Tomcito to a third-placed effort in the 2008 Florida Derby (gr. I) behind eventual Kentucky Derby presented by Yum! Brands (gr. I) and Preakness Stakes (gr. I) winner Big Brown .
Peruvian-bred Thoroughbreds are no strangers to international success. They have won three renewals of the Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini (Arg-I), South America's signature race in Argentina, and seven editions of the Gran Premio Asociacion Latinoamericana de Jockey Clubes e Hipodromos, the marquee weight-for-age race in South America that moves around to different countries. Over the last 40 years, Peruvian Thoroughbreds have won international group I races in Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Uruguay, and Venezuela, but none in the United States.
Suarez father, Juan Suarez Sr., trained Peru's most emblematic racehorse Santorin, winner of the 1973 Gran Premio Carlos Pellegrini at Palermo Racecourse in Buenos Aires by a margin of 13 1/2 lengths.
Peru produces only about 4% of the overall registered Thoroughbred foals in South America but has been known for some exceptional broodmares like *Pamplona II, dam of 1975 Epsom Derby (Eng-I) winner Empery and French One Thousand Guineas (Fr-I) winner Pampered Miss.
Peru was also home to La Chaposa, the dam of grade I winners You and I and Chaposa Springs, and is home to many talented jockeys making their mark across the great North American nation, such as Edgar Prado, Rafael Bejarano, Jorge Chavez, and Jose Valdivia Jr.
"We are conscious this is a very complicated race, but we have very much faith in her," Saba said of his runner.