By Bill Finley
For the first time since Hurricane Maria caused devastating damage to Puerto Rico, Camarero Racetrack will run a regular card Friday. The track ran three races with no betting Oct. 29, which was necessary for some horses to qualify for last week’s Carribean Classic at Gulfstream.
The last time a full card was held at the track was Sept. 17, three days before the hurricane hit.
Camarero normally races five days a week but will stick to a three-day-a-week schedule until it can build its horse population back up.
“The track has been redone and is in perfect condition,” said Marc Tacher, co-owner of the racetrack. “The barns also have been worked on and everything that is needed to race is in place. It’s already working. Of course a lot of people depend on this industry and the main reason for us moving ahead and starting the racing operation again is exactly that–because people need to work.”
The track will begin racing again despite claims by a horse welfare group on the island that not nearly enough has been done in the way of repairs on the backstretch to adequately house and care for the horses stabled there.
“I’m not against starting up the racing. I think starting the racing back up is going to give hope to fans, grooms, trainers,” said Kelley Stobie of Carribean Thoroughbred Aftercare Inc., a group that spearheaded the effort to save and care for horses on the track’s backstretch following the hurricane. “What upsets me is not one effort has been made by Camarero Racetrack to put roofs on the barns and get these 80 horses that have been in portable stalls for the past two months into better facilities and barns. Nothing has been done to fix the damaged barns.”
Stobie estimated that nearly 90 horses at Camarero have died due to problems related to the storm. She said some of the deaths came after the track re-opened for training and horses suffered from laminitis or colic because they were not in good enough physical condition to return to the track.
Tacher, while admitting more work needed to be done to repair the backstretch, painted a different picture of the effort undertaken by track management to give the horses suitable stabling.
“We fixed quite a few things,” Tacher said. “But we are depending on the insurance company because a lot of the claims have not been processed or approved with the adjusters and our engineers. That part of the claims process hasn’t been done. We still have fixed a lot of barns and put up temporary roofs. For the horses we have that are ready to race, they are in good barns. All that we have to do is definitely not complete yet. That’s going to take a couple more months but we can’t wait for that to be 100 percent before we start racing. That wouldn’t be the right thing to do. We need to get started as soon as possible.”
Stobie said one barn was in the process of being fully repaired and will have room for 38 horses, but said the efforts to fix that barn were undertaken not by the track but by Puerto Rico’s racing commission.
Tacher said there are currently about 800 horses stabled at Camerero, but only about 550 are ready to race. He said the others include yearlings and horses that are still dealing with injuries. He said that during normal times about 1,100 horses are stabled at the track.
“There will be three days of racing at the start, instead of five, and gradually we’ll get back to normal with five days a week,” Tacher said. “A lot of the horses left the track right after the storm. They went to a lot of different farms and a lot of them went to the U.S. So, inventory-wise we’re not back to 100%. We have to race according to what inventory we have.”
Even with the limited racing schedule, Tacher said he was delighted that the track would soon be up and running again.
“It feels fantastic to be back,” he said. “The racing in Puerto Rico needs this and there’s no better feeling that getting back to racing.”