Gulfstream Park will be the center of Latin American racing Dec. 9 when it hosts the $600,000 Clasico Internacional del Caribe.
This will be the first time the Caribbean's premier Thoroughbred racing event is held outside a Caribbean or Latin American nation since its 1966 inception. The program offers five races, including its signature $300,000 Clasico, a 1 1/8-mile stakes for 3-year-olds.
"It's our (Kentucky) Derby," said Panamanian trainer Alberto Paz "Droopy" Rodriguez, a three-time (1974, 1992, 2015) Clasico winner. "Gulfstream Park is a first-class racetrack, and everybody is so excited it's going to be part of the event's history."
Other stakes on the Clasico Internacional del Caribe program include a Sprint, Distaff, Invitational, and Confraternity for 3-year-olds and up. Because the event was not held in 1972 or 1979, this year's Clasico will be the 50th.
Fasig-Tipton will be the presenting sponsor and the Clasico will be televised live on ESPN Deportes from 4-5 p.m. ET.
Frank Stronach, whose The Stronach Group owns Gulfstream, was a catalyst behind hosting the Clasico in South Florida. Quarantine issues and travel logistics took several years to work out with the U.S. Department of Agriculture before the deal could be finalized.
"It was one of Mr. Stronach's ideas, to try and change the culture a little bit and try to get everybody from all over the world to see our product and see what it's all about," said Gulfstream Park general manager Bill Badgett. "We're really looking forward to it. We think it's going to be a really, really good day."
Event officials appreciate Stronach's efforts.
"The Confraternity will be run in honor of Frank Stronach," said Rodriguez, who plans to enter Fray Angelico (PAN) in the Clasico.
Badgett said early feedback from Clasico delegates has been positive, to the point that there already have been suggestions that Gulfstream host the event again in the future.
"We'll just play it by ear," Badgett said. "We don't know what the handle is going to be, how the people are going to perceive it as far as the betting goes. So, it will be interesting to see how that goes."
Nine countries comprise the Confederation of Caribbean Racetracks. Panamá (15) has won the most Clasico stakes, followed by Venezuela (13), Mexico (11), Puerto Rico (8), and Colombia and the Dominican Republic (1 each).
Each member country hosts its own Triple Crown races that award points toward the Clasico.
Jennifer Vitrella, Gulfstream's director of events and catering, has been working on the event for more than a year and a half. She said a full week would be needed to get the property dressed with flowers, flags, and other decor.
"It's going to be such a different race day than this track or this country's ever seen," Vitrella said. "We're really going to bring South America to Gulfstream Park. There's a lot of pomp and circumstance, and a lot of pride in the individual nations and how they're represented."
Four jockeys have won the Kentucky Derby and the Clasico del Caribe. They are Gustavo Avila (Canonero II and Victoreado), Jacinto Vasquez (Genuine Risk, Barremina), Laffit Pincay Jr. (Swale, Pikotazo), and Joel Rosario (Orb , Sicotico).
The Dec. 6 post position draw for the $300,000 Clasico del Caribe can be viewed live on the Gulfstream Facebook page or by visiting the track website. Post positions will be drawn at approximately 10:30 a.m. ET in Ten Palms Restaurant at Gulfstream.
Note: BloodHorse plans race coverage in all its platforms.