By Alan Carasso
The Thoroughbred breeding and racing industry in Puerto Rico was not spared the brunt of Hurricane Maria, which roared through the American territory earlier this week, causing massive structural damage to Camarero Race Track some 30 kilometers southwest of central San Juan and as-yet undetermined damage to the region's horse farms.
Puerto Rican Racing Commissioner Jose A. Maymo issued an update to industry stakeholders late in the evening of Sept. 21, spelling out the details as he knew them. Maymo explained in his update that he had the opportunity to visit the heavily damaged grandstand and barn area at Camarero, calling the stables “shattered” with “90% of the cages [stalls] without their roofs.” Maymo confirmed there were no equine or human deaths reported at the track. He assured Camarero owners and trainers that the racing commission could be counted upon “to coordinate everything related to food supplies and beds” for the horses.
Maymo added that the tote board also suffered damage, but that efforts would be made to maintain the racing surface so that the horses may be able to train. The grandstand and surrounding areas and the clubhouse were destroyed, Maymo wrote. He added that a rebuilding effort would take months, but that there was no timetable. Maymo sounded a hopeful note, saying that this event “is an opportunity for a new beginning, a resurgence of our equestrianism.”
Maymo also assured industry participants that the Racing Commission would attempt to make arrangements for any Puerto Rican horses being pointed for the Serie Hipica del Caribe at Gulfstream Park Saturday, Dec. 9, to be transferred to South Florida.
“We will do everything in our power to achieve it,” Maymo wrote. “Puerto Rico…deserves to be represented as a sign that we are standing and that we will be stronger than ever.”
For its part, Gulfstream Park stands ready to accept Puerto Rican participants in the series pursuant to quarantine obligations.
“We would welcome them with open arms,” commented Tim Ritvo, chief operating officer of The Stronach Group. “If they need to move in here now, we would find a place for them, especially the horses competing.”
Ritvo said that there are 50 stalls that have been set aside for the horses who will ship from the various countries for the Hipica del Caribe. He estimated that 10 horses from Puerto Rico were intended runners in the series.
“Any horse running in the series can come in as early as they want,” Ritvo said. “Of course they have to go through their quarantine. We have [quarantine] dates reserved for 40 or 50 horses. If they were to move that date, it would just depend on whether the USDA could accommodate them earlier in the quarantine in Miami.”
Power to the entire island nation has been knocked out and Governor Ricardo Rossello told CNN that restoring service may take months.