There is arguably no more prestigious horse race in Latin America than El Clásico del Caribe – the Caribbean Derby. Saturday is the 50th running, and they’re marking that milestone by holding el Clásico here in South Florida.
For the past half century, the annual Clásico has been run in Caribbean basin countries like Venezuela, Puerto Rico and Panama. But this year the race's organizers decided to bring its thoroughbreds to a much bigger stage: the Gulfstream Park horse-racing track in Hallandale Beach.
Gulfstream is one of the U.S.’s top horse-racing venues. And it sits in one of the U.S.’s largest Latin American populations. So general manager Billy Badgett says he understands why the Clásico’s organizers wanted its 50th edition run here.
“Gulfstream, it’s like a mecca to them," says Badgett. "They were just so infatuated with how things are run here, with having all the best trainers and the best jockeys. And to host that race, their Super Bowl day, it’s a thrill for us.”
For Caribbean countries and U.S. territories beat up by hurricanes this year, this Clásico is also a much-needed reason to cheer. Of the 12 horses running on Saturday, the second favorite is Justiciero from Puerto Rico, owned by Marc Tacher.
“I just picked up my wife and my kids at the Miami airport," Tacher said Thursday. "And on the same plane she flew in, there were over 30 Puerto Rican fans. They came to see him [Justiciero]. You can imagine what a boost this would for Puerto Rico’s morale. We’ve had a very rough year.”
The Clásico favorite is El Cubita, from another beleaguered country – Venezuela. The race starts at Gulfstream Park at 4:55 pm Saturday.