Racing—with a dash of soccer fervor—comes to Gulfstream Park Dec. 9.
The Clasico del Caribe Presented by Fasig Tipton will be run for the 50th time Saturday, but for the first time it will be contested in the United States. Twelve have been entered in the $300,000, nine-furlong race for 3-year-olds dubbed "the Kentucky Derby of the Caribbean and Latin America."
The race is a matter of national pride in the nations and territories represented, so a lot of flag waving and T-shirt representing can be expected. Panama, whose horses have won the Clasico a record 15 times; Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Mexico, Ecuador, and the Dominican Republic have entries this year.
Venezuela native Emisael Jaramillo, a jockey now based at Gulfstream, has won the Clasico del Caribe a record five times and will be aboard his nation's morning-line favorite El Cubita, a son of Mr. Macool who has finished second in three group 1 events after breaking his maiden in his debut.
"The race is very important to our country," Jaramillo said. "To win the race ... the feeling is unbelievable."
Juan Carlos Diaz, who has the mount on Puerto Rican Triple Crown winner Justiciero, the early second choice, echoed Jaramillo's sentiments. "This is a very important race for us." The fact that it will be available for wagering across the United States via Gulfstream's simulcast network and shown live by ESPN Deportes and XBTV adds to the excitement, he said.
Justiciero's home track, Camarero, was damaged in September by Hurricane Maria. However, his owner, Mark Tacher, who also has the lesser regarded Platino in the field, is a part owner of the track and was able to pull together a 1 1/16-mile prep race for his horses Oct. 29, where Justiciero won with Platino second.
An offspring of Coach Billy G., Justiciero shipped to Florida in early November and has been training well at Gulfstream for more than a month, according to his trainer Raymond Morales. Tacher feels a victory for Justiciero or Platino would provide a morale boost for the folks back home.
"It's been a tough year for Puerto Rico. A victory would mean so much for the people. Justiciero and Platino represent the island and we're looking for a good race for both horses," said Tacher, whose Clasico del Caribe entrants are trained by Raymond Morales.
Panama's best hope for a 16th victory is probably Fray Angelico, one of two horses from the Central American nation. Fray Angelico, an offspring of Concerto trained by Alberto Paz Rodriguez and to be ridden by Luis Saez, is out of 1996 Clasico winner Angelical.
Joel Rosario will go for his second Clasico victory and the second for a horse from the Dominican Republic with Inmenso, a 12-1 shot on Gulfstream's morning line in spite of coming into the race on a nine-race winning streak.
Mexico's main hope is the filly Jala Jala, who has picked up Irad Ortiz to ride.
While the horses and trainers will be largely unfamiliar to American fans, well-known North American jockeys will be aboard most of the entrants. Other riding assignments include John Velazquez on Le De Horacio; Manny Franco on Joyme, Javier Castellano on Inspirato; Edgard Zayas on Tuki Monton; Tyler Gaffalione on Gatillo; Roberto Alvarado Jr. on Platino and Jose Batista on Senalero.
The feature, which has an approximate post of 4:45 p.m. ET, will be supported by four other Clasico Internacional del Caribe stakes for horses bred in the participating Caribbean countries and territories.
* In the $124,000 Lady Caribbean Stakes for 3-year-old fillies at 1 1/16 miles, Puerto Rico-bred Esplendorosa will try for a fifth straight victory.
* Older horses will take the spotlight in the $100,000 Confraternity Caribbean Cup Stakes at 1 1/4 miles where Gran Will enters off back-to-back group 1 wins in Venezuela.
* OIder horses imported to one of the participating countries are featured in the 1 1/4-mile Invitational Cup Stakes, where Ecuador's El Kurdo will attempt to extend his four-race win streak.
Six minor stakes for locally based juveniles will open Gulfstream's program.