Competition And Collaboration In Latin America

When Argentina's Roman Rosso crossed the finish as the one-length winner of Sunday's US$500,000 Gran Premio Latinoamericano at the Maroñas racetrack in Montevideo, Uruguay, it was not just a victory for the connections of the 3-year-old son of Roman Ruler. All Argentine horsemen and racing fans shared in the glory of winning this prestigious Group I event that for the 34th time brought together the best horses from the region.

Competing in this year's Latinoamericano were runners from Argentina, Brazil, Peru and Uruguay. Chile, unfortunately, was not able to participate because of a contagious disease outbreak at a training center that prompted the Uruguayan government to temporarily ban the import of horses from that country.

The victory by Roman Rosso comes at a time when Argentina's racing and breeding industry are reeling from a recent money grab by the government – taking a hefty slice of revenue from slot machines that has been funding purses and racetrack operations at San Isidro and La Plata and promising to take even more in the future.

Hipódromo Nacional de Maroñas in Montevideo, Uruguay

Argentina has been the kingpin of the Latin American Thoroughbred industry, but there are very real concerns that this move by government could have a significant effect on the business of racing and breeding, among other things causing the foal crop to decline (Argentina's foal crop, last reported in 2016, was 7,860, more than the combined totals from Brazil, Chile, Peru and Uruguay).

The win by Roman Rosso offered a reprieve from those concerns – if only momentarily. The celebration of winning jockey Wilson Moreyra, Roman Rosso's owner, La Primavera Stud, and trainer Jorge Mayansky, demonstrated the passion and joy that comes with racing Thoroughbreds in this part of the world.

Other countries shared in the Latinoamericano's minor awards, with Leao de Prata of Brazil second and Peru's Barbon third. Uruguay's best hope, race favorite setting the pace for most of the 2,000 meters on dirt but then tiring in the three-furlong long Maroñas stretch. Roman Rosso completed the distance on a fast track in 2:02.05.

It wasn't so long ago that Uruguay's racing and breeding industry was in economic shambles and owners raced their horses for pride only – there was no purse money. The historic Hipódromo Nacional de Maroñas itself had fallen into disrepair and was closed, with squatters and homeless taking over parts of the grandstand.

Solar panels in the infield make Maroñas the region's first “green” racetrack

Since its reopening in 2003 and particularly under the ownership and management of Codere, Maroñas has evolved into a first-class facility. There have been upgrades in the grandstand and in the presentation of racing with excellent video work using high-definition camera. The track utilizes a modern wagering system from United Tote. The stable area has been expanded with recently constructed barns, and on Sunday's Latinoamericano program, Maroñas celebrated the opening of a new turf course built with the assistance of American racetrack surface consultant Mick Peterson.

Another forward-looking feature to Maroñas is the installation of solar panels in the infield that help make this the first “green” racetrack in the region – and possibly the world.

A major reason things are looking up for Uruguay's Thoroughbred industry is governmental recognition that it is a significant business that provides a substantial number of jobs. Revenue from casinos supports racing and one of the industry's staunchest allies is Javiar Chá, the government's director of casino operations.

“We try to take advantage and offer the excellent conditions of our country's soil and weather, which make it an ideal land for breeding horses,” said Chá in an interviewed published in a souvenir magazine for the Latinoamericano. “But we would also like to take advantage of other positive features of Uruguay: we have a large population of racing fans, evenly spread throughout the country, we have the best number of horse owners to population size ratio in all of the Americas, we have the most popular racing activity – in terms of its social structure – and in addition the industry has a large social and employment impact throughout the whole country.

Javiar Chá

“We are the country which offers the best fiscal advantages, the best incentives to boost production and the best allowances for horses born and raised in the country, when compared to the rest of our region,” Chá added. “We would like to introduce Uruguay to the rest of the world as the country which provides the best conditions for investing in Thoroughbred breeding and the best conditions for exporting horses, in all of Latin America.”

Pablo Salomone has bought into Chá's vision with Haras Cuatro Piedras. With money he's made in the medical equipment world, Salomone purchased 200 acres of land near Progreso, a small town within an hour's drive of Maroñas and even closer to Hipódromo de Las Piedras, a second racetrack owned and operated by Codere. Salomone has meticulously restored 19th century barns, added new buildings (including a surgery room), invested in breeding stock (he owns about 45 mares) and is in the process of building a training track – a rarity in Uruguay.

Most significantly, Salomone arranged to have Uruguayan Triple Crown winner and U.S. Horse of the Year Invasor brought home to stand at Haras Cuatro Piedras. The Breeders' Cup Classic and Dubai World Cup winner, who was bred in Argentina and trained for Shadwell Stud by Kiaran McLaughlin in the U.S., has his first crop of Uruguayan-born foals turning 2 on July 1. The farm also stands Brazilian-bred Brujo De Olleros, who was imported to the U.S. and finished third behind Goldencents in the 2013 Breeders' Cup Dirt Mile at Santa Anita.

Invasor at Haras Cuatro Piedras

A sign at Haras Cuatro Piedras says “Life Is Good … Horses Make It Better,” and Salomone lives up to that mantra. Each weekend, Salomone and his general manager, Juan MIlat, retire to a small room at the end of the barn that they call their “church.” Surrounded by curios, racing memorabilia and trophies won by Cuatro Piedras horses, the two men watch racing on television, enjoy a drink or two and talk about their dreams for their equine business.

On the eve of the Latinoamericano, Salomone hosted a group of international horsemen and journalists who came to Uruguay for the race. They were treated to a stallion show, had the opportunity to see some of the farm's yearlings, and were served local wines and a healthy portion of the bone-in ribeye steak that Uruguayans say is the best beef in Latin America. (Argentineans might argue the latter point.)

The entire afternoon was an example of great hospitality and smart business. The message to neighboring Argentineans was clear: if you're worried about the breeding industry in your country, come to Uruguay to breed and race horses.

If they didn't get the message from Salomone and Milat, casino director Chá took the microphone for a few minutes to extoll the virtues of his country's integration of casinos and racing for the common good.

The idea is to use the money to strengthen racing and further build the public's participation through increased handle.

That's not just a message for Uruguay but for the entire region, as France's Louis Romanet, chairman of the International Federation of Horseracing Authorities (IFHA), said in a published interview. Romanet said wagering in Latin America is “clearly not at the right level for such a big industry.”

One potential hurdle Latin American racing must clear is a concern that anti-doping measures have been lax and that the sport lacks the level of integrity necessary to instill confidence in gamblers.

To that end, post-race test samples from the Latinoamericano and other Group races in Uruguay are dispatched to a laboratory in France accredited by the IFHA as an international reference lab. In addition, the Organizacion Latinoamericana de Fomento (OSAF), which promotes racing and breeding in nine Latin American countries, has rallied its members to support a single testing lab for the region in San Isidro, Argentina, to apply for that same IFHA certification.

Race-day medication is also being phased out, first in stakes and then in overnight races, so that OSAF countries are aligned with IFHA standards. Horses in the Latinoamericano ran without the race-day bleeder medication furosemide.

The competition on the racetrack in the Latinoamericano demonstrated national pride, with Argentina coming out ahead in this year's edition. But cooperation and collaboration among all the OSAF countries toward their shared goals will strengthen the sport for all.

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