Sunday, December 10, 2017

From Coast to Coast: Triumph and Tragedy

For South Florida racing fans, a funny thing happened on their way to and inside of Gulfstream Park on Saturday: They drove to Hallandale Beach expecting to see the environs of a racetrack only to witness a soccer game break out.

Well not quite, but expressions of racing’s internationalism where everywhere on display, between small cadres on fans from different countries from way south of the border to cheering horseplayers standing behind their country’s flags.

If enthusiasm is the measure, then the first ever Clasico Internacional del Caribe program staged in North America was an unqualified success. And it all happened on an afternoon that only can be described charitably as an anything but a Chamber of Commerce day.

Doubtlessly, the intemperate weather and sealed, sloppy conditions contributed to an all-sources decline from $9.4 million to $8.8 million year over year. But that wasn’t the metric of significance to indicate that the inaugural ‘Clasico’ in South Florida was successful:

On-track handle surged from 2016’s $947,000 to Saturday’s $1.4 million. Fans came to party but bet, too, and that was on six juvenile races with many unknowns and five Clasico races void of the kind of detailed past-performances American bettors want.

The event was a far cry from what was unfolding on the opposite side of the country, where horse people were and still are dealing with the remnants of a brushfire that swept through the San Luis Rey training center and claimed the lives of 66 horses.

Huge Crowd on Hand for Inaugural Clasico del Caribe
Images of good news came on TVG, video that showed horsemen reuniting with the horses they once feared had perished. Even now, after three days, the emotions on display remain as raw as it gets.

If there was one shining moment in all the chaos and tragedy it is how when, in times of trouble, the tribal racing industry circles its wagons and helps its own.

And it warmed the heart to see outside help from horse lovers living in the area who are not tethered to Thoroughbreds, but hopped in their vehicles to help look for and attend to horses forced to use their God-given flight-of-fright instincts to survive.

Along with the animals, caretakers and rescuers also suffered. But the good news as of Sunday morning is that kin to famed Thoroughbred racing caricaturist, Martine Bellocq, is out of her medically induced coma.

Bellocq is showing some improvement after suffering severe burns over half her body as she began to shoo frightened horses out of their stalls.

Further, highly respected veteran turf writer Hank Wesch of the San Diego Union-Tribune who went to help out at Del Mar, suffered a heart attack and needed three stents inserted into his heart. They must have been some very large stents, indeed.

The outpouring of love and concern from the community has been emotional to see. Volunteers from Sea World and dog rescue organizations also came to the Del Mar rescue staging area to help in any way they could.

More than a half million dollars has been raised at and still growing—so please keep giving. Even racing activist Andy Asaro has taken time away from his harping to post about the items needed for continuing the relief efforts.

Jockey Rajiv Maragh has pledged to donate 5% of his purse earnings through Dec. 17 to help pay for feed, water buckets, etc. But of greater significance his dollars will go toward housing and every-day items for grooms and hotwalkers whose racetrack dorms were completely destroyed.

Connections Celebrate Win by Mexico's Jala Jala
Then, following her impressive victory in the Grade 1 Starlet at Los Al, aptly named Phoenix Thoroughbreds, owners of Dream Tree, tweeted that it would donate a major portion of the winning purse from the Starlet to the Lilac fire relief efforts.
While this tragic story continued to unfold, Gulfstream was playing host to one of the most eclectic racing cards ever staged: 11 stakes; six for two-year-olds and five international races by way of South America.

It’s not often at a racetrack when horseplayers witness anthem singing, cheering, colors waving and drum circles, a grandstand apron crowd that many people compared to Florida Derby day.

The second Pegasus crowd should be as welcoming, loud and as enthusiastic as Saturday’s.

After eye-catching performances from Mark Casse-trained juvenile filly Miss Mo Mentum, who delivered a second straight dominating performance, and Todd Pletcher’s Bal Harbour, who showed his promise following recent disappointing efforts, the Clasico program began with the seventh of 11 carded races.

Two American riders dominated the inaugural with Irad Ortiz Jr. winning three of the events and Johnny Velazquez the other two.

Venezuelan Fans Cheer On Their Favorites
Owner Cabernet Racing, the nom-de-race of former jockey Rene Douglas and partners, turned their Ontario-bred 6-year-old over to trainer Juan Arias this summer. Arias later won a Panamanian Grade 1 before shipping here to take yesterday’s Invitational Cup Stakes.

But the Clasico training star was Fausto Gutierrez who dominated the first event, the Lady Caribbean Cup Stakes, with Mexico’s Juguaryu by 7-3/4 lengths, and also won the centerpiece finale, Caribbean Classic Stakes, with fellow Mexican Jala Jala by 9 lengths.

Panama won the Confraternity Caribbean Cup Stakes with El Tigre Mono, trained by Carlos Espino, the first of Johnny’s natural double, followed by Venezuela’s Master Supreme in the Caribbean Cup Speed for trainer Ernesto Ochoa.

The comradery of horse lovers in California, coupled with the celebration of international racing in South Florida, made for one of the most unusual and complex Saturday afternoons of racing, the likes of which was something we’ve never seen.

HALLANDALE BEACH, FL., December 10, 2017
Photos by Mason Kelley

Written by John Pricci

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