Moving forward, what can be done to encourage Latin American involvement?
Roberto Rodriguez was born in Venezuela and came to the United States in 2001. While he grew up a horse racing fan, it was not initially where he planned to make his living. Five years ago, he began working as a journalist, in charge of the sports section of a local newspaper. When he requested media credentials for the Florida Marlins, Miami Dolphins and Gulfstream Park racetrack, Gulfstream was the only one who opened the door and offered him the credentials. He began covering the sport and connecting with people in the business. Rodriguez eventually began working with a company who partnered with prominent horse racing industry trade publication, The BloodHorse, to create BloodHorse en Español. After 6 months, the project failed because of lack of interest on behalf of Latin American readers to purchase the online subscription. When deciding on his next step, Rodriguez decided to begin his own project.
Roberto Rodriguez at the 2017 Belmont Stakes
“The idea of the magazine, it was good, the only thing is people has [sic] to pay for it,” Rodriguez said during a phone interview. “So when we finished that project, I say well, I’ve got to do something because I figured it’s still a good idea, but we could manage the other way. So I said let’s put together a website, and I was pretty much by myself. I’ve got nobody else working with me right then. I said well, I’ve got to put my name because people know me as “El Potro”, and I’ve got to put my name on it.”
It took him four months to prepare the website, ElPotroRoberto.com, which provides news articles about horse racing in Spanish, and went live in July of 2015. It now has nearly 70,000 viewers per month.
Estimating statistics of the numbers of Spanish-speaking people who work at a racetrack, Rodriguez emphasized the need for Spanish horse racing media to educate, inform and draw more fans and investors from the Latin American demographic. He particularly called for an increase in social media efforts, which creates a bridge between fans from South and Central America, the Caribbean, and Spain.
“I think the sport itself, it has a lot of influence in the United States… We do have, I would say 75 percent of the backside workers, they are Spanish related some way, somehow. And jockey colonies, I would say 40 percent, maybe 50 percent. Trainers are growing though. I would say trainers are pretty much 50 percent in South Florida. So owners, breeders, it’s still growing. I think we need to use more social media. Every single track should have at least a Spanish channel. Full and complete Spanish channel, not only handicapping, they should have full coverage in Spanish. Taking that idea, that’s why we put together HRRN en Español. It’s the only radio who broadcasts the Breeders Cup, for example, last Breeders’ Cup, nine hours completely in Spanish. So I think, we, as Spanish people, we are a lot of influence in the United States horse racing. But we have been, I won’t say recognized, we haven’t been exposed the way it’s supposed to be.”
A tweet sharing the announcement of the 2017 Clásico del Caribe, to be run at Gulfstream Park
Rodriguez explained that creating HRRN en Español, and thus expanding the media coverage of horse racing offered to Spanish-speakers was an idea he held in mind for four years before it came to fruition.
“It wasn’t until July 27, 2016, we did our first live broadcast,” Rodriguez explained. “It was the Jim Dandy. And then we went to the Travers Stakes, and then we did Breeder’s Cup, like I mentioned before. And we did Clásico del Caribe in Puerto Rico. And obviously Triple Crown, Pegasus (World Cup), all those races in south Florida. But at the same time in October last year, we started “Hablando de Hipismo”, a Saturday morning talk show at 10 am. It started with one hour, right now it’s two hours. So we are working on how we can improve that show, and one of the ideas is to have a call, so people can call to the show and share. But we don’t have that platform ready yet, but we still have the live show.”
The concept of Spanish horse racing media still appears to be very new in the United States, and it is difficult to pinpoint where, when and how it began in this particular sport. However, media is not the only way the U.S. is facilitating the involvement of Latin Americans. In December of 2017, Gulfstream Park, a racetrack in Hallandale, Florida, will become the first outside of Latin America to host the prestigious Clásico Internacional del Caribe race, since its inception in 1966. The race, which switches venues year to year, has previously been held in Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Panama, among other countries. In a 2016 Gulfstream Park press release, Mike Rogers and Tim Ritvo, members of the Stronach Group, which owns Gulfstream Park, stated their desire to showcase Latin American racing to a wider audience. “We believe the opportunity to showcase your product is something that will be beneficial to all the countries involved,” Ritvo said. (“Gulfstream to Host 2017 Clasico Internacional del Caribe”).
Roberto Rodriguez has two different perspectives on the movement of this race out of Latin American to the United States: The potential to increase the quality of the race, and the detriment to Latin American fans. Rodriguez recognized the benefit of removing the home-track bias for horses from the country where it is hosted. During the 2017 edition, everyone will be on the same playing field.
A view of Gulfstream Park
“To be fair with everybody, I feel that’s a great idea,” Rodriguez said about the 2017 Clásico del Caribe being held at Gulfstream Park in Florida. “I think Florida represents a new [inaudible] better track, the amenities are better, so the quality of that day is going to be better.”
“If you go back in time, you are taking away their main race.”
Rodriguez likened the movement of the Clásico del Caribe to Europeans making an argument for hosting the Kentucky Derby in England because there are horses coming from Japan and Dubai to compete.
“They are feeling the same, they have the same kind of feeling, you know? They are thinking, fine, you are being fair, but at the same time you are taking something away. I’m talking now as a fan, because that was my Kentucky Derby, that was my Breeders’ Cup. And now you take it over from me. Now a lot of Spanish people, they’re not going to be able to make it because the race is going to be in the United States. Now you are counting with the Spanish speaking people, horses racing fans, to leave to the United States to assist to that event [sic].”
2016 edition of the Clásico del Caribe, run in Puerto Rico
Rodriguez went on to challenge the media coverage that will be provided of the race to make up for what fans will miss by not being able to watch in person. He has a number of questions, including “What kind of information are you going to provide them? What kind of coverage are you going to provide? What sponsors are you going to use to attract all those people?” Rodriguez believes there must be a special focus from Spanish media coverage mediums, such as ElPotroRoerto.com or HRRN en Español, to close the gap created by taking away some of the best days of racing in the Central America and Caribbean regions.
“I think it’s going to be positive for the people that can afford it. For the people who can afford to be here, to be part of it, or use that as a tool to attract more investors to the United States – yes, it’s going to be good. But for the people who can’t afford it, which I would say is the highest percentage, they don’t see in this like ‘ah yeah that’s fine you can have the show, I’m just going to be able to watch it on TV if I can.’ It’s kind of give or take.
“You are thinking about investors, you are thinking about can you afford a show, you are thinking of the people, ‘okay it’s going to be nice, it’s going to be good’. But how about the people who can’t show up? How about the fans? What kind of coverage are you going to provide? Are you going to provide a handicapping show, just for them? That’s it? You need to provide something more – you’re taking away the main race, you’d better provide something better. You’d better provide completely, like one week coverage, like workouts, like the Panamanian horses arrive to the United States, interviews with jockeys and trainers. And you need a large, a very large amount of people to get that done. People who speak Spanish and English and they’ve got the horse racing knowledge.”
From this perspective, the final technique in sewing the already intertwining strings of Latin American and U.S. horse racing together is to bolster the amount of Spanish media.
Rodriguez conducting an interview in Spanish at Churchill Downs
From backstretch workers to jockeys, international investment and media, Latin Americans have influenced the United States horse racing industry. Their interest and involvement can be observed at horse sales, international events such as the Breeders’ Cup World Championships, and even at Kentucky Thoroughbred breeding farms they have purchased. The economic viability of breeding and racing in the U.S., in addition to the prestige held by the country’s greatest races, has created a draw for investment from Latin American patrons of the sport. The prevalence of Latin Americans in the U.S. industry has even led to the development of new career positions to facilitate their participation, and the creation of Spanish horse racing media. And finally, the inclusion of Florida into Latin American racing through the movement of the Clásico del Caribe encourages further attentiveness to the active Latin American business demographic in the United States horse racing industry.