Panama Diaries: A Morning in Paradise

The Life

Traveling to Panama City, Panama on Wednesday for the Serie Hipica Del Caribe races, I wasn’t sure what to expect. After landing at about 10 p.m. and getting a few hours sleep, my first stop the next morning was the stakes barn. This is where all the foreign horses in Panama for the five big races are stabled. With a walking ring out front, the barn made for some amazing views.

The stalls in the barn area were big and open for air flow, a nice combination in the humid conditions. While there was a lot of hustle and bustle like many barn areas around the world, it was also much more laid back than I’ve experienced in the United States. Even the horses seemed more relaxed with Copa Invitacional Importados entrant Deland doing everything but laying down when falling asleep during his post-exercise routine.

Mexico’s Triple Crown winner Huitlacoche was one of the horses in the stakes barn area and I was directed to his stall where I found his trainer Fausto Gutierrez. A leading trainer in Mexico, Fausto was also a journalist in college so I had a nice chat with him about his background and Huitlacoche.

They had been in Panama since November 20 and while the climate was much different than what they are used to in Mexico City, they have both settled in well.

It isn’t often that you get to see a Triple Crown winner up close, no matter what country he or she is from, so I had to get my picture taken with him. It’s hard to believe that in one year, I’ve been able to take pictures with multiple Triple Crown winners.

After completing a few more interviews for stories I was writing about the event, it was time to return to the hotel so I could get to work on a few pieces. I was told before I left the track that most of the horses go out on the track between 6 and 8 a.m. to beat the heat so when my alarm went off a little after 5 a.m., I was ready to go.

I wasn’t disappointed in the show the sunrise put on over the track when I first arrived. While Hipódromo Presidente Remón is right on the outskirts of Panama City and you can see buildings in the distance, it is its own little oasis.

I’ve been told for years that riders in Latin America countries ride their racehorses bareback and had seen many pictures but those pictures didn’t at all live up to what I saw in person. I’ve been riding horses since I was very young and spent many hours as a kid riding bareback but I was extremely jealous of the seat these riders had on the horses. I told the people I was with that I would have made it about five strides into the gallop on some of the tougher horses before falling off.

The first horse I saw from the big races was Eclaire, who like Huitlacoche is trained by Fausto Gutierrez.

Shortly after Eclaire, Deland galloped by. I have grown rather fond of Deland after seeing how he acted the day before back at the barns so it was fun to see him galloping. His exercise rider helped me at the barns on Thursday and is a really cool guy so I hope they do well on Sunday.

The Caribe horses started coming fast and furious from then on out with the flashy gray Lluvia de Nieve next by. After watching Puerto Rico trainees Deland and Lluvia de Nieve, it seems like the Puerto Ricans train more like trainers in the continental United States.

Running year-round, Hipódromo Presidente Remón has a large population of racehorses and I was able to see many of the local horses in addition to the Caribe runners during my few hours there.

Standing next to the gap [the part of the racetrack where horses come on and off] I was able to also watch the organized chaos of horses coming on and off the track.

One of the most interesting horses in the Clásico del Caribe is Puerto Rico’s Registro. The 3-year-old colt won two legs of Puerto Rico’s Triple Crown and is coming into the race on a six-race win streak. Registro looks like a powerhouse and he’ll be hard to beat on Sunday.

One of the interesting things about Hipódromo Presidente Remón is that from 6 to 11 a.m. every morning, horses can swim in the infield pond for $2. I was able to go watch a few of the horses swim and it was a very interesting process. The man in charge of the pond swims with each of the horses and said that he swims about 20 horses a day, most of them with injuries that keep them off the track.

During the few sessions I watched he was joined by some birds who I can only guess were eating the bugs the swimming horses stirred up. I was also told that there are a few smaller alligators who also frequent the infield pond but I didn’t see them this trip.

After taking in the morning works, I headed back to the barn area to stop by Alberto Paz "Droopy" Rodriguez’s barn. Droopy is a leading trainer in Panama and has quite a few in this year’s Caribe races. One such horse is this year’s Panama Filly Triple Crown winner Monkey Business. After taking some photos of the filly, I was given the chance to spend a few minutes petting and getting my picture taken with her.

This year Droopy also won the colt version of Panama’s Triple Crown, although he did it with two different horses. Calinico won the first two legs of the Triple Crown and is one of the favorites for the Clásico del Caribe.

Droopy is very excited about Calinico’s chances but I like his other Clasico horse, Nite Train. Panama’s champion 2-year-old last year, Nite Train spoiled Calinico’s Triple Crown chances this year. He looks primed to run and is a sweetheart to boot.

I told Droopy that I’ll gladly take Nite Train back to the United States with me to live in my apartment but for now I’ll just have to be happy with this picture.

One horse who seems like a huge jokester is Assassin, who runs on Saturday. The 4-year-old colt is out of a half-sister to multiple Grade 1 winner Excellent Meeting and had a mischievous look in his eye even though he acted like a perfect gentleman. He did know that the camera was there for him though and posed like a pro for my camera.

And with that, my second day at the track was over. Stay tuned to America’s Best Racing for my next diary about the weekend of racing. Panama has put on quite a show for the event so far.

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