By Perry Lefko
Thoroughbred horse racing returned to Puerto Rico’s Camarero Racetrack Sunday, the first card since Hurricane Maria damaged the country back in September, and it proved to be an emotional day for various reasons.
Three races were run, although there was no wagering because the tote board was damaged. The first race was for apprentice jockeys. The second race was a practice for young horses. The feature race was for 3-year-olds and was won by the projected favorite Justiciero, ridden by the country’s leading jockey Juan Carlos Diaz. There was no betting and no purse. The race was intended for horses preparing for the Clasico Internacional del Caribe, Dec. 9 at Gulfstream. It is worth $300,000 and is restricted to horses from Latin American countries.
Axel Vizcarra, President of Confederation de Jinetes Puertorriquenos (the Puerto Rican Jockey Club), said about 500-1,000 people attended the day of racing.
“It means a lot,” Vizcarra told the Thoroughbred Daily News. “Horse racing has been in Puerto Rico for nearly 100 years. It’s very rooted within our culture. The devastation caused by Hurricane Maria practically left no horse racing for awhile. Then again, we are Puerto Ricans. We are resilient. When we love something, we go for it. When it breaks down we fix it. A lot of people came out, it was very emotional. They didn’t care where they stood. They didn’t mind the heat, the sun, they went out to see some horse racing and they got what they wanted.
“As far as Puerto Rican racing, we started race with [just] a rope. If we find a stretch of land, there will be racing. Of course we need a barn area and that needs to be taken care of immediately because we’ve lost 33 horses.
“For our jockeys, we are right there among the best in the world. It’s in our bloodstream.”
Myris Rivera, Vice-President of the Puerto Rican Jockeys’ Guild, also said it was an extremely emotional day.
“Everybody who is in the racehorse business [in Puerto Rico] and everybody who is a fanatic like to see the horses run,” Rivera said. “It was just a shame that we’re in such bad shape right now that the races couldn’t be televised. When you televise it, a lot of people like to go to the off-track betting places to watch. But there’s only about 20% of people in Puerto Rico who have power.”
Vizcarra said the card of racing was originally intended to be specifically a classification for the race at Gulfstream, but then it was decided by the track’s management to add some supporting races for the apprentice jockeys and to give 2-year-old horses a chance to stretch out.
“They put a nice package together and people came out, which was a lot of fun,” Vizcarra said.