Mano a Mano is Spanish and Portuguese meaning "hand to hand.", that describes any kind of competition between two people where they both compete trying to outdo each other, a perfect definition for the thrilling home stretch between Venezuela's El De Chine (Biloxi Palace -- Frances in Command by Deputy Commander) and Puerto Rican triple-crown winner Arquitecto (Hockenheim -- Coordinadora by Mister Jolie), ridden by two legendary jockeys of the region: 10-time Caribbean Series winner Emisael Jaramillo, in search for a record 4th Clasico win, and 12-time leading Puerto Rican rider Juan Carlos Diaz, winner of more than 3000 races, but winless in the Clasico. Once again, Jaramillo was able to find the necessary extra that makes the difference between winning and losing, to notch a 4th consecutive win for his native country (another record), in the main event of the Caribbean Breeders Series, the $300,000 Clasico del Caribe. Winning time was 1:52:69 for the 9-furlong distance.
The Clasico was considered a wide-open race, with about 7-8 horses well bet by the fans that packed Camarero racetrack on a beautiful Sunday afternoon; El De Chine was made the favorite based on his stellar 9 wins out 10 starts campaign, six of them graded stakes wins, as well as the recent success enjoyed by Venezuela in the race. Arquitecto had failed to win a race in just two tries in the last 6 months, after capturing the Triple Crown in the spring. Trainer Jose D Velez Jr had to overcome the colt's recent bleeding problems that had cost him a win in the last qualifying race of his country, the Antonio Fernandez Castrillon Stakes, so there were plenty of doubts about his upcoming performance in the race.
El De Chine was placed third along the rail and very near the lead, while Chao (VEN) and Eclaire (MEX) set the early 24'1-48'3 fractions, very similar tactics used by Jaramillo for his win in Saturday's Dama del Caribe aboard Guasca; Jaramillo was able to save ground the whole race, and took over the lead at the 4-furlong pole, still challenged by Eclaire, while Chao dropped out of contention. In the meantime, Diaz had to settle for the 5th path in the first turn, due to the 12 post chosen at the drawing for Arquitecto; they had foreseen a fast-scenario in front, and decided the outside was the place to be, strategy that seemed to be the winning one at the top of the stretch. As Diaz set sights on El De Chine in mid-stretch, Jaramillo moved El De Chine right next to Arquitecto, and the gritty grandson of the unforgettable Seattle Slew gave his skillful jockey one last surge to hold Arquitecto's charge. When considering the final winning margin of a neck, the difference in the quality of each horse's trip was probably the defining factor of one of the most exciting Caribbean Classics ever run.
Winning trainer Juan Carlos Avila achieved his 3rd Caribbean Series win but first in the Clasico,
and thanked the people of PR for their hospitality, while also recognizing Venezuelan Breeders achievements; Emisael Jaramillo had praise words for the winning efforts of the host country, and called for the unity of the region, while winning Breeder, Haras La Orlyana, enjoyed continued success in the most important races of the Caribbean, after having won the $100,000 Confraternity Cup the previous day with King Carlos Juan.
The stage for the Clasico del Caribe had been set by the renewal of the $50,000 Invitational Cup with just 5 imported horses representing Puerto Rico, Venezuela & Panama, but it was a field that had the winners of 50 races out of 109 tries, all of them stakes winners bred in the U.S. 2-time champion Vuelve Ruben M has been the best imported horse for the better part of almost 3 years in Puerto Rico, and it was considered by the experts as the island's best chance for a win during the Series, because of the horse's consistency and stellar 7-for-10 record in stakes races, as well as the fact that 12-time leading Puerto Rican rider Juan Carlos Diaz would be aboard. However, the race was thought to be a dream match-up against 4-time stakes winner Smart Dna, a son of dual-classic winner Smarty Jones coming off an impressive stakes win at the distance, back from an 88-day layoff. His winning time for that race was only one second off the track record in Panama, and coincidentally, Smarty Jones' trainer John Servis was on hand as a special track guest, a good omen for the Panamanian representatives' hopes.
Vuelve Ruben M enjoyed the quintessential perfect trip, tracking dueling leaders Be Welcome (PR) and Roarin Discovery (VEN), but keeping Smart Dna's pinned on the inside. After clocking 23'3 and 47'2, both Diaz and Panama's Felix Salgado decided to go after the leaders, striking the front in 1:12'2 with 4 furlongs to go; it was obvious Diaz had a ton of horse under him, while Smart Dna's Salgado was already all out trying to squeeze between horses. Vuelve Ruben M pulled away at the top of the stretch to go on to win in 2:06:82 for the classic 10-furlong distance, but still had to overcome a foul claim by Salgado, who had to settle for a 3rd- place finish, 4 lengths behind the race favorite, and a half-length behind Be Welcome.
Ben Cambra, Executive Producer for Winnercom, trainer John Servis, and The Jockey Club's Rick Bailey were on hand to deliver the trophy to the winning connections of Vuelve Ruben M, owned by Mr. Angel Morales and trained by his brother Ramon, a 4-time winner of Caribbean Series races who dedicated the win to his family and Puerto Rico's racing fans, after getting very emotional talking about his humble beginnings as a groom at Philadelphia Park, where Servis has been a leading trainer for many years. After all, Servis' presence was a good omen, but for the enchanted island's champ.
The series came to a close with 3 wins for Venezuela, including its 12th win in the top race, good for second place behind Panama's 13 victories, while Mexico and Puerto Rico each finished with one win a piece. A very important development for the 45th edition of the Clasico del Caribe was Governor-elected Alejandro Garcia Padilla in attendance, marking the first time in 10 years the island's top official was at the track to deliver the trophy to the winner, a hopeful sign that there will be positive initiatives by the local government to the troubled horseracing industry of Puerto Rico, and more importantly, to the successful continuation of our beloved Clasico del Caribe.