The mystique, passion and national pride stirred by the world’s only itinerant G1 horserace

Jockey Juan Villagra shows how much it means to win the Longines Gran Premio Latinoamericano - this was on Argentina’s Sixties Song at Viña del Mar in Chile two years ago. Photo: Longines

First run in 1981, the G1 Longines Gran Premio Latinoamericano is the biggest prize in South American racing. An event unto itself, every part of the race — from the distance it is run, the direction it is run in, the surface it is run on, and the country it is held in — varies. On Sunday (March 10), this year’s Latinoamericano will be held at Club Hípico de Santiago in Chile.

Part of the mystique of the Latinoamericano is that it moves not only from track-to-track but country-to-country every year, and that is why the basic facts about it change so much in different editions.

Looking toward the future, the race is on course to make its biggest modification yet – being held on an entirely different continent – as Gulfstream Park has requested to be a future host.

A matter of pride

The concept of a race changing venues every year isn’t unheard of — the Breeders’ Cup World Championships were built around that concept. However, the Latinoamericano is still one of a kind, and it was intended to be.

“It is the only itinerant Group 1 race in the world,” said Horacio Esposito, who is the advisor in international affairs for the Organización Latinoamericana de Fomento del Pura Sangre de Carrera (OSAF). “Whereas other races may also change the hosting racetrack from one year to the next, as is the case of the Breeders’ Cup, the Longines Gran Premio Latinoamericano is the only race which changes racetrack and country each year.   

“It is indeed, the feature that makes this race unique in the whole world. It’s been the tradition of the race since it was first staged in 1981 in Uruguay.”

As one might imagine, winning the Latinoamericano is more than just a victory for the horse — it is a victory for the entire represented country. Much like the Olympics or FIFA World Cup can bring out a great deal of national pride, so does the Latinoamericano.

“To win is the greatest achievement and greatest pride for any owner, breeder, trainer, jockey, stable boy, and all of the horse’s team,” said Esposito. “This is the only race where the best in the region meet face-to-face. That adds to the normal competitive spirit of the major races around the world: the pride of representing one’s country. This is the pride we’re talking about, which makes it incomparable to any other Group 1.”

With ten victories, Brazil leads the way for most winners. Peru is next with nine, and this year’s host country of Chile is third with eight. That said, a Chilean representative has not won the Latinoamericano since Sabor a Triunfo in 2013.

“The ground rules of the Longines Gran Premio Latinoamericano establish that all member racecourses have a secure minimum of one runner,” Esposito. “Ideally, we aim at achieving the largest international representation in the race. That is why each year we make the efforts to allow ten or 12 horses to come from abroad to compete. Fortunately, this has been successfully achieved despite the multiple obstacles related to freights, due to the poor availability and high costs.”

One of the biggest changes in the history of the race came in 2016, when it became an open contest to all international runners. The race was originally restricted to member countries when it was organized by the Asociacion Latinoamericana de Jockey Clubes e Hipodromos, which no longer exists by itself but has fused into OSAF.

“Before then, only runners nominated from member racetracks could be entered to compete,” said Esposito. “As of 2016, it is an open race, with a quota reserved for horses from countries which are members of OSAF Board, and another quota for any horse, from any individual owner and any individual country.

“Open public calls have been made during these last four editions for runners to come from the USA or Europe. This year, we took the initiative of inviting the winner or one of the place horses from a race on Pegasus Day in the USA, but unfortunately, in the end, they did not enter.”

Quality variety

Because the race changes venue every year, it has been held at distances ranging from 2,000-2,400 meters, on both dirt and turf, and this year’s host, Club Hípico de Santiago, holds a special distinction.

“The constant change in host racetracks and countries makes the race have to adjust to the features of the hosting track,” said Esposito. “Wherever there is a turf track, it will surely be run on that surface. If we were to count back to the number of editions in each, by 2019 we have a record of 17 on turf and 18 on dirt, so it’s pretty much evened out.

“The distance has also varied in some cases, but it is always between 2,000 and 2,400 meters, which is a requirement for this particular race. This year, the distance will be 2,000 meters, and it will be run clockwise. Club Hípico de Santiago is the only racetrack in all South America where races are run in this direction.”

The Latinoamericano is known for annually bringing the best of the best in South America together. Five years ago, gaining a sponsor also helped add to the prestige of the race, and it also provides a great financial incentive to its competitors.

“It’s the most important race in South America, and the only race where all representatives from Part 1 countries in our region take part,” said Esposito. “Also, it’s the race with the highest average rating amongst its competitors, and the one with the largest purse money.

“Since 2014, with the introduction of Longines as our official partner and official timekeeper, this race offers a total purse of $500,000, with no precedent within our whole region.”

This year’s runners, which will be representing Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Peru, and Uruguay, include the Argentina-bred Sixties Song, who won the 2017 Latinoamericano, when it was held in Viña del Mar, Chile.  

“We have to bear in mind that almost every horse is nominated after a classifying race run in its country of residence,” said Esposito. “So, the Longines Gran Premio Latinoamericano would be a kind of final contest for a tournament that begins in different countries during the last three or four months before the race.”

International efforts

Although back home now, Sixties Song made history two years ago when he became the first South American-trained horse to ever run at Ascot. It was not his day, as he finished 35 lengths behind Enable in the King George VI And Queen Elizabeth Stakes, but he was still an important trail-blazer.

Due to an agreement between Ascot, Latin American Racing Channel (LARC), and OSAF, the winner of this year’s Latinoamericano will be offered the chance to compete in one of the G1s or in the G2 Hardwicke Stakes during Royal Ascot, with Ascot giving the winner a subsidy of £20,000 for travel expenses.

Further international exposure involving the Latinoamericano may come from hosting the race in North America. Although not finalized, efforts are being made to make that a reality sooner rather than later.

“The OSAF board, together with our main sponsor, are in charge of defining the venues,” said Esposito. “In 2020, it will be San Isidro’s turn to host, and we have the idea of running the 2021 edition either at Gulfstream Park in the USA or else at Hipódromo de Monterrico in Peru, which has also submitted a request to host that edition.  

“The racetracks interested in staging the Longines Gran Premio Latinoamericano submit their formal request, and the decision is reached. The hosting racecourse puts forward, in their application, a proposed distance and surface that OSAF Board may or may not approve. The last word regarding distance and surface is up to OSAF.”

Although organizers are used to dealing with the logistics of a moving race, going to Gulfstream would present a new set of tests, but they are confident they can be overcome.

“Progress is being made in that direction,” said Esposito. “There are issues to address and solve in the case of organizing the race with Gulfstream Park as the hosting racetrack. We are making progress in offering a minimum quota for the hosting racecourse, for local horses, as long as the priority remains to compete with the largest number of international horses.   

“In addition to the normal issue of moving horses around five or six countries, we have to add in this case the health, customs, and other racing issues in a scenario that we are not familiar with. But we are confident that we will be able to make this project come true in March 2021.”

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