The island of Puerto Rico is well known around the world during this time of the year for its beautiful beaches and tropical weather as well as the colorful way its inhabitants like to celebrate the upcoming holidays.
But also, among horse racing fans, Puerto Rico is known as the yearly host of the Caribbean Horse Racing Series that begins Saturday at Camarero Race Track. The Series will feature horses representing different countries in the Caribbean Horse Racing Confederation, including Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Puerto Rico, Trinidad and Tobago, and Venezuela.
The five stakes races in the series will have a combined purse value of about $570,000. Four of the five stakes races, Copa Velocidad (Sprint's Cup), Copa Dama del Caribe (Lady of the Caribbean Cup), Copa Confraternidad (Confraternity Cup), and the Clasico del Caribe (Caribbean Derby), are restricted to horses bred in the Caribbean Horse Racing Confederation.
The remaining event, the Copa Invitacional (Invitational Cup), is for horses bred anywhere but in countries from the Confederation.
The first race of the series is the 1 1/16-miles Dama del Caribe with a $60,000 purse. Panama appears to have the best chance to win this race with three out of the six participants in the race. On paper, the race seems to be very competitive with no clear favorite.
The $60,000 Copa Velocidad will follow in the series with nine 3-year-olds entered for the 6-furlong race. Puerto Rican-bred Dinamita is expected to be the favorite in the race as she has won five of 10 races this year at the local track.
Two-time Eclipse Award winner John Velazquez will ride Venezuela's King Seraf who figures to be one of the main contenders in the race.
In the 25th running of the 1 1/4-miles Copa Confraternidad, Puerto Rican-bred Soy Conquistador, winner of last year's Clasico del Caribe, will try to become just the second horse ever to win both races. Puerto Rican-bred Verset's Jet won both races in 1993 and 1994, respectively.
Soy Conquistador enters off a win in the Clasico Día del Veterano, in which he established a new track record of 2:04:82 for 1 ¼ miles.
"This horse is peaking again at the right time," trainer Maximo Gómez said. "This is a horse had that has some health issues but he is back to his old form, just like last year when he was going into the Clasico del Caribe. I'm very confident we will see a great performance from him on Saturday."
Venezuelan-bred Taconeo, who will be ridden by Venezuela native and U.S.-based jockey Javier Castellano, looks like Soy Conquistador's main rival. He enters off an impressive victory in the $279,000 Clasico Internacional Simón Bolivar in Venezuela.
He finished fourth as the favorite in last year's Clasico del Caribe, 12 ½ lengths behind Soy Conquistador. He briefly campaigned in the U.S. earlier this year but his best race was a second-place finish in the John's Call Stakes at Saratoga Race Course in New York.
Volveremos (Panama) and Fraterno (Puerto Rico) also are stakes winners in their respective countries, and the remaining participant, Navideño (Panama) is placed in a stakes in his previous race, finishing ahead of Copa Confraternidad contender Volveremos.
The Jockey Challenge will also be held on Saturday, featuring several local riders from the Caribbean. The participants include Juan C. Diaz and Jesús M. Ríos from Puerto Rico; Alejandro Gómez from the Dominican Republic; Enrique González from México; Luis Arango from Panamá; Andrew Ramgeet from Jamaica; and U.S.-based riders Rosemary Homesiter Jr., who won the Clasico del Caribe in 1998 with Panama's filly Alexia, and Puerto Rico's Orlando Mojica.
The Jockey Challenge will consist of four races, and the rider who has accumulated the most points after the four races will be declared the winner. Points are awarded to first five finishers on each race in a scale of 12, 6, 4, 2, and 1.
The Caribbean Horse Racing Series continues Sunday with the 5th edition of the $50,000 Copa Internacional at 1 1/4 miles. Puerto Rico's Truly Frisky is the likely favorite of the race. He has won nine races in row since May 2007.
Later that evening, the main event of this series will be the 40th running of the $300,000 Clasico del Caribe. The 1 1/8-miles Caribbean Derby has 13 horses entered. This year edition is a special one, since it's the first time ever that three Triple Crown winners will face each other in the Clasico.
The Dominican Republic's Sicotico has won 16 consecutive races. He lost only his first career race, when he lost the rider at the start. He will be ridden by Dominican jockey Joel Rosario, who has been extremely successful in Southern California.
"I am really excited and proud to ride in this race," Rosario said. "It's a great honor whenever you have the chance to represent your country."
Oxsai (Panama) and Alsafra (Jamaica) are the other Triple Crown winners for their respective countries. There have been six Triple Crown winners who have won the Clasico del Caribe: Montecarlo (Panama) in 1973, Pikotazo (Mexico) in 1980, Vuelve Candy B. (Puerto Rico) in 1991, Leonardo (Panama) in 1992, Evaristo (Panama) in 1998, and Spago (Panama) in 2004.
The favorite to win the race will likely be local star Defensora. The Puerto Rican-bred filly has won 16 of 19 races and has amassed more than $590,000 in purse earnings. She won two legs of Puerto Rico's Triple Crown.
The Clasico del Caribe can be seen on ESPN Deportes Thursday at 6 p.m. ET.