Morning at a Racetrack in Chile

the Valparaiso Sporting Club – My favorite hidden gem in VIÑA DEL MAR

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The Puente Cancha entrance to the Valparaiso Sporting Club

If you aren’t actively looking for it, you’d hardly notice the wrought iron gates set in the graffiti-covered wall across from Puente Cancha in Viña del Mar, Chile. The wall, which parallels 1 Norte Street, shields the backside of the Valparaiso Sporting Club from the honking cars and smoking buses trying to deliver anxious people to work on their Wednesday morning.

Unless you poke your face through the bars of the gates, the only indication of a track on the other side is a sign emblazoned with a victorious racehorse and bold lettering, announcing in Spanish the dates of the 2-year-old Triple Crown Races.

A guard, seated in a small guard shack just inside, is expecting me. He motions me in as I push open the surprisingly heavy gate, leaving behind the raucous outside environment and entering into different world. A gray paved road stretches out before me, lined by trees and shedrows. Steaming horses covered with brightly colored sheets clatter up and down the drive as they’re cooled out by hot walkers.

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Walking and… riding hots? I guess whatever it takes to cool ’em down!

I walk down a sidewalk to an office to locate my friend and mentor Cuco. The man who reads off races over the intercom on entry day greets me with a wide smile and points in the direction of a nearby barn, where Cuco stands with trainer Oliverio Martínez under the overhang of the roof.

I greet them both with the customary kiss on the right cheek, and the three of us shuffle into the open so I can snap photos of horses passing to the track as we chat. We talk about the upcoming Breeders’ Cup “Win and You’re In” race – the Clásico Grupo I Club Hípico de Santiago Falablla (that’s a mouthful), and the champion 2-year-old that Mr. Martínez trains, named Big Daddy (He was born in 2013 but is actually considered a 2-year-old here because of the southern hemisphere breeding season).

Considered one of the best horses in Chile, Big Daddy is sired by Grand Daddy, a full brother to the late Scat Daddy, who shuttled to Haras Paso Nevado from 2009-2011 to stand in Chile during the southern hemisphere breeding season. Big Daddy, out of Chilean-bred mare Tan Libre, recently extended his winning streak to a fourth race, taking the Group III clásico Víctor Matetic Fernández at the beginning of May.

Cuco asks where I want to go. Closer to the horses is always my answer, so we make our way onto the track to watch workouts. Riders gallop past, a few perched atop exercise saddles as they breeze out after a timed workout, others seated astride as they exercise bareback.

DSC_0107The ominous gray sky begins to spit water, so I guard my camera under my jacket and we amble off the track, chatting with folks as we go. Cuco knows everyone and anyone, and always makes a point of introducing me, although I struggle to remember names. Speaking in Spanish, my second language, is tough enough; remembering names on top of that tends to take a back seat. Cuco patiently waits as I whip out my phone, and spells names and words that I want to remember so I can jot them down. We have a good system.

We walk through the dampening sand towards the direction of Mr. Martínez’s shedrow, pausing so I can take photos of riders, agents, grooms and trainers who call out to me for their picture. A few huddle together in groups, some just pose by themselves. There are smiles and laughter everywhere.

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Everyone wanted their photo taken by the “Señorita Periodista” (Miss Journalist).

Mr. Martínezs’ shedrow, like most at Sporting, is conformed in the shape of a square with an open courtyard in the center. A sign with his name and a painting of black and white jockey silks hangs to our left as we walk through the entrance. We walk over to a stall and talk with a groom, who’s calmly brushing a sleek bay colt – an un-started 2-year-old from the U.S. whose name I didn’t catch – as we waited for Mr. Martínez to return. Cuco explained that unlike the U.S., where horses are bathed every day after workouts and races, baths are rarely given here. So thorough brushings are commonplace.

Mr. Martínez returns, and we talk for 15 minutes about my travels in Chile and horse racing in general. Then Cuco decides we should take a trip to the next shedrow down so I can meet a certain character named “El Niño.”

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The powerful bond between man and goose.

Cuco and two other guys chuckle as one goes in a stall that seems to be home to a bunch of ducks. He emerges herding a giant white “ganzo,” or goose. My first thought was ‘Um… geese can be mean buggers, so I hope I’m not about to get a bad joke played on me.’

But no mean joke was played. They simply wanted to show off the dog-like personality and intelligence of a giant goose who can “speak” and “cry” (in goose language of course) and attack people on command. He also follows his master everywhere. It was one of the most hilarious sights to see.

After a highly entertaining 15 minutes with El Niño, we proceeded to the office to check out the jockey scale, and then back to the track to sit under the covered viewing stand. The skies opened up and the rain came down, soaking humans and equines walking to and from the gap of the track. One rider leans forward to stroke his horse’s neck. Another calmly maneuvers an anxious dark bay down the horse path, sitting confidently as the horse dances sideways.

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My heart melted just a little bit.

I sit among a gaggle of men – trainers, exercise riders and the clocker, among others – some watching workouts, others just shooting the breeze. A multitude of topics are thrown around, from Saratoga to crazy ex-wives, words I don’t understand and a few “garrabatos,” (swearwords). Not unlike any other track I’ve ever been to – just a few thousand miles further from any track I’ve set foot on.

The last couple horses leave the oval a few minutes before the 11 a.m. closing time, some led away by waiting grooms, others ridden down a sandy dirt road, saturated by the persistent rain, back to their shedrows. In contrast to the U.S., where most horses are galloped, hot-walked and possibly groomed by three difference people, Chilean Thoroughbreds are cared for by one person who fulfills all of those roles.

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Hanging out with Cuco (middle) and trainer Oliverio Martínez.

People and horses disperse as Cuco and I splash through the slop towards the tree-lined drive. I hunch under my rainbow pocodot umbrella, Cuco under his Saratoga giveaway umbrella – a reminder that before long, I’ll be home and packing for another summer on the east coast.

We pass through the heavy wrought iron gate, back to the outside world.

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4 thoughts on “Morning at a Racetrack in Chile

  1. Patricio Varas Karmy says:

    Hola Annise…me gustó mucho tu crónica sobre el Sporting (así le llamamos los viñamarinos..yo nací allá pero a los 9 años nos vinimos a vivir a Santiago por temas laborales de mi papá aunque seguimos totalmente conectados con Viña porque gran parte de mis familiares por parte de madre y padre viven allá…

    A propósito..yo me llamo Patricio Varas Karmy, soy periodista y actualmente trabajo como consultor y profesor universitario en temas de Comunicación, Sostenibilidad y Responsabilidad Social Empresarial (RSE..en inglés la sigla CSR Corporate Social Responsability…

    Por una coincidencia o “anécdota” del destino llegué a tu blog porque estaba buscando información de hípica (o “las carreras” como decimos en Chile comúnmente).que es una pasión, especialmente para mí y papá…

    Al leer tu crónica..me empecé a sorprender cada vez más por tu visita al Sporting…Te cuento que mi papá desde muy joven trabajó como juez de partida y otros trabajos en el Sporting…bueno..cuando era muy niño (hace muuuuccho tiempo!) mi papá me llevaba para ir a ver a los caballos, los aprontes temprano en la mañana y cuando había una carrera especial..

    Desde ese tiempo que mi papá conoce a Oliverio Martínez y hasta ahora son íntimos amigos…(cariñosamente nosotros le decimos Lelo..) èl ha tenido una carrera de preparador muy destacada y de mucho esfuerzo..desde cuando se inició en el Sporting hasta el día de hoy en que vive en Santiago, trabaja en conjunto con su hijo y ha recibido el reconocimiento por su trabajo..

    Y al Cuco tb lo conozco desde niño porque trabajaba con Oliverio en su corral, era muy amigo de mi papá a mí siempre me hacía bromas…después el partió a trabajar a Estados Unidos y siempre nos alegramos mucho de lo que ha ganado…hace tiempo que no veía una foto de él,,,se ve que sigue tan simpático cuando lo conocí…ahora con más canas…igual que yo…

    Si miras los tuit de mi cuenta @patriciovarask hay bastante información de hípica, especialmente del Sporting que fue como mi segunda casa cuando vivíamos en Viña y le tengo mucho cariño..

    Ohhhh!! me alarguè mucho en el comentario….espero que no te quedes dormida al leerlo (puede que te sirva para practicar español a la chilena..jajaja..

    Ojalá me puedas escribir por gmail o twitter….yo sigo tu cuenta en twitter…Te mando un gran saludo, espero que tu experiencia acá y en Viña especialmente sea muy entretenida y provechosa y estamos en contacto.

    Muchos saludos desde un frío y contaminado Santiago. Patricio V.

    Liked by 1 person

    • annisemontplaisir says:

      Hola Patricio!
      Gracias por su amable comentario. El tiempo que yo pasaba en el Sporting fue uno de los partes más memorables de mi tiempo en Chile. Toda la gente que trabaja allá que yo conocí son muy simpáticos, y espero que puedo volver en el futuro. También, ojalá que algún día puedo asistir El Derby.

      Saludos 🙂
      Annise

      Like

  2. Patricio Varas Karmy says:

    Me alegro mucho que hayas tenido una bonita experiencia conociendo el Sporting y las personas que trabajan en ahí, que son lo más importante para desarrollar la hípica.

    Te cuento que ayer miércoles 29 de junio se realizó el clásico Copa de Plata Italo Traverso y ganó el caballo Sandy Bay, así que logró la Triple Corona del Valparaíso Sporting después de de más de 20 años. Fue una gran jornada y tuve la suerte de estar allà. Puedes ver la noticias en: http://www.sporting.cl

    Te mando un gran saludo desde Chile y te contaré sobre la preparación del Derby 2017. Patricio V.

    Like

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