In June, only a few weeks after American Pharoah won the Belmont Stakes to become the 12th Triple Crown winner in U.S. racing history, Mexican-bred Huitlacoche followed his lead by winning the 1 1/8-mile Derby Mexicano to become Mexico's seventh Triple Crown champion.
The colt has won nine of his 13 career starts, including seven races in a row before finishing a close second to Famus Palo in his most recent start. On Sunday, Huitlacoche will be making his first start outside of Mexico in the Clásico del Caribe at Panama City's Hipódromo Presidente Remón.
The 1 1/8-mile race for 3-year-olds bred in five Central American countries drew 13 horses, and Huitlacoche's trainer, Fausto Gutierrez, is eager to see how his colt stacks up against the opposition.
“After he finished at 2 years old, we thought he had a very good chance [to win] the Triple Crown,” Gutierrez said. “Especially since in our country the groups aren't very big ones, so all the time you run with the same horses. So if you win one or two, you are near. I think that's the same for all the countries to run here … but now is the time to put together the best ones and see who's who.”
Gutierrez has secured a jockey familiar to United States racing fans to ride Huitlacoche in the Clásico del Caribe. Luis Contreras is scheduled to be aboard after contacting Gutierrez to secure the mount.
The trainer originally thought about flying Victor Espinoza down to ride Huitlacoche, but the combination of Contreras telling the trainer he wanted the ride and Espinoza spending part of the week in Hong Kong ultimately landed Contreras the mount.
“I think this horse has a very good chance, this is the first time Luis Contreras rides the horse. He's a very good jockey in North America,” Gutierrez said. “He's a good rider, very professional. He wanted to come to this race; I think this is very important. I think you need a rider to have this ambition of winning this race and Luis is very professional. He called me and said 'I want to ride this horse,' so I see confidence in his form.”
If Huitlacoche can live up to the hype of a Triple Crown victor, he will become the second horse in three years to win the race for Mexico. Diamante Negro won the Clásico del Caribe in 2013.
Huitlacoche is one of about 140 horses Gutierrez trains for Cuadra San Jorge, which also runs horses in the United States. If Huitlacoche runs well on Sunday, there is a slight chance he could join Cuadra San Jorge's United States string in Florida, but Gutierrez said the plan is to wait to see how the horse runs in the Clásico del Caribe before making any firm decisions.
“I train a lot of good horses, but he's a very good one for 3-year-old Mexican-breds,” he said. “The jump to the other levels with American horses, it's complicated.”
With four horses running on the card this weekend, Gutierrez has a full hand headed into the Clásico del Caribe weekend of races, but he fully admits that the Clásico del Caribe is the race he really wants to win.
“I think the Clásico del Caribe is the most important race in the area for 3-year-olds; it's the best horses. It's something I want to win very badly,” he said. “I think it's fun to have all these countries [together] for these races. It is very different than the United States.”
While he would not be the first horse to win a Triple Crown as well as Central America's version of the Breeders' Cup Classic, Huitlacoche would become the third horse in the last 10 years and eighth overall to win both a Triple Crown in his native country and the Clásico del Caribe should he wins the main event on Sunday night.
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