2012 Classico wide open

Updated: December 8, 2012, 9:12 PM ET
By David Merida | Special to ESPN.com

Yvette Sangalo looks for victory in the Classico.Camarero RacetrackYvette Sangalo is the only filly to qualify for this year's Classico.

The Breeders Cup Classic or the Kentucky Derby serve as the best reference for everything that is great about the sport, the same way the riches and tradition of the Classico del Caribe has all the ingredients to successfully bring to the limelight the best the Caribbean region has to offer. Its unique Olympic-style format only grants participation in the race through a series of qualifying races held at each of the Caribbean Confederation nations, to achieve the right to represent their countries in the richest race in Latin America, therefore, participation cannot be supplemented or bought; it has to be earned by each country representative on the track. Caribbean horse racing has a way of mimicking US horse racing, as it faces the same challenges the "parent" industry deals with in terms of handle, field sizes and quality of competition all-year round, and just like the big races named above were this year, the 2012 edition of the Clasico is a wide-open affair without a clear-cut favorite.

When I think of what the race has meant to us throughout all our years in the sport, I think of Victoreado and the great Gustavo Avila, the first horse & jockey winning combo of the Caribbean Derby in 1966, a horse I saw when I was just a kid in La Rinconada before they travelled to San Juan to shock Puerto Rico's Angel Cordero Jr aboard El Rebelde in the first edition of the Clasico. As a teen fan in 1977, it was a chance to dream of bigger things to come, as Huracan Si suddenly and unexpectedly appeared in our family's 12-inch TV to nail rivals at the shadow of the wire, as Aly Kahn, Venezuela's version of Tom Durkin, screamed "Gano Venezuelaaa!!! [Venezuela wins!!!]," I was hooked for the rest of my life. Little did I know that after pursuing a career in horseracing, I would see those dreams come true when I had the unforgettable opportunity for double-duty in 2008, when covering the event for ESPN Deportes, while fulfilling the racing manager position for Cristal de Oro's My Own Shangai Stud in Puerto Rico. I was paralyzed with emotion and could hardly talk, watching our horse finishing second by less than a length; as I had to regain my composure to interview the winning connections of Sicotico, the Dominican Republic's triple crown winner that had just given them their first and only victory in the 45-year history of the event, the tears I had in my eyes were tears in heaven.

Jockey Emisael Jaramillo
Emisael Jaramillo looks for his fourth Classico victory aboard El De Chine.
Lionel Muller, who has held almost every important position there is in Caribbean horseracing, and who has been instrumental in securing the necessary financial and logistical support from Puerto Rico's government for the race for the last 15 years, remembers the emotion felt when Verset's Jet won the race in 1993 because of all the ailments and surgeries the valiant horse had to overcome to win it for Puerto Rico, and because the colt had followed in the footsteps of his dam, Verset's Dancer, winner of the 1983 edition in track and stakes record time. Jorge Colon Delgado, the multi-tasking, highly-efficient and always available Press Director and Historian of the Clasico, remembers Puerto Rico's Wiso G's triumph in 1968 as a moment in time that made a difference in his life when he was a mere 15 years of age: Not only was it his native land's first win in the race, it was also his first time at the track alongside his father, and he had the chance to meet and greet Angel Cordero Jr. Talk about a winning trifecta!

Jorge's source of unforgettable memories is the biggest injustice during the 5-decade career of Mexican trainer Arturo Ruiz Garcia because he was Coqueta's losing trainer in the race after Wiso G bothered his 2nd-place filly by drifting outside during the length of El Comandante's home stretch, but could not be disqualified because the local racing authorities feared a mob scene after thousands of fans had stormed onto the track to greet the winning colt. His presence in the 2012 edition of the race might be a good omen for Mexico, winner of 10 of the first 28 runnings of the race but now in their longest drought in the event since Locochon broke the stakes record in 1995 at the V Centenario racetrack in the Dominican Republic. They have the only filly in the race: Yvette Sangalo, a daughter of leading 2012 second-crop sire Hard Spun, out of a mare by the 1990 Kentucky Derby winner Unbridled. The filly has the right pedigree for the distance, and has a stakes win in her 11 outings in the U.S. to her credit, although it was as a two year-old and at 6 1/2 furlongs. Mexico's hopes will also be vested upon Eclaire, the leading 2 year-old colt in 2011, and Willy, also conditioned by Ruiz Garcia, and Eclaire's nemesis after defeating him in two of their last 3 meetings.

All in all, the race is our Kentucky Derby and Breeders Cup combined; it is what every horsemen, trainer and jockey in our countries aim at as their careers in the sport are pursued; and every year we look forward to the historical achievements to be reached. 2012 is no different in that regard; the race will honor the extraordinary contributions made by Fernando Eleta, as an 8-time winner as owner & breeder, while also serving as President of the Caribbean Countries Confederation from 1980 to 1996. His native Panama will try for a leading 14th win in the race with Vosaye & El Respetuoso, winners of a combined 6 races, none of them stakes; Arquitecto will try to use the advantage of being the local star to become the first Puerto Rican Triple-crown winner to actually win the event on the track, since Vuelve Candy B won the event via disqualification in 1991; the colt is a son of Coordinadora, winner of the 2003 edition of the Caribbean Distaff (Dama del Caribe), trained by Ramon Morales, a 3-time winner of Caribbean Series races who has Don Carlos R in the race. A dangerous winner of 5 out of 10 races which seems to be peaking at the right time, Don Carlos R will be ridden by Javier Santiago, the only jockey to have ever won consecutive triple crowns worldwide, achievement reached in 2001 & 2002 in Puerto Rico. The host island will also have the privilege to welcome 20 year-old jockey sensation Irad Ortiz Jr back to the track where his meteoric 2-year career started, a career that already includes 2012 G1 stakes victories in the U.S. aboard likely 3-year old champion filly Questing, and a win aboard Handsome Mike in the $1 million Pennsylvania Derby. Irad will ride El Capricho for Puerto Rico.

Wiso G
Wiso G gave Puerto Rico the win in 1968.
Additionally, Venezuela will try for a record 4th consecutive win in the event, after capturing the race with Bambera (2009 in Puerto Rico), Water Jet (2010 in Venezuela) and Heisenberg (2011 in Panama). They have sent a trio of horses with varied running styles; Comediante & Chao have won 4 Grade 1 races between the two of them, and have traded wins in dominant fashion at times, but have never tried the 9-furlong distance of the Clįsico. The third Venezuelan representative is El De Chine, a lightning-fast multiple stakes winner of 9 of 10 races, 1 for 1 at the distance, and ridden by Emisael Jaramillo, who will try to become the first jockey with 4 victories in the Clasico.

El Clasico's organizing committee has successfully kept up with social media by redesigning the host track's website; it also launched the clasico's official website, and its official YouTube channel , with terrific coverage of the crowning jewel of the weekend's festivities as part of The Caribbean Breeder's Series, a horse-racing competition ritual for the area that includes a 6-furlong stakes race for sprinters, a 1 1/16 miles stakes race for distaffers, and two races at the classic 10-furlong distance: the $100,000 Confraternity Cup for older Caribbean-bred horses, and the $50,000 Chamber of Tourism Invitational Cup for imported horses.