Racing researcher Rosana Rivera, a native of Puerto Rico, remembers her island’s most famous ball player and his connection to racing as an owner. Photo courtesy Ms. Rivera. — SHF
By Rosana Rivera
Today, December 31 2012, is the 40-year-old anniversary of the loss of one of American baseball’s brightest stars, Roberto Clemente, in a tragic plane flight. The Puerto Rican right fielder was bound for Nicaragua on a humanitarian mission to provide aid to the victims of a catastrophic earthquake that roiled the country a week earlier.
The Pittsburgh Pirates of owner John W. Galbreath had drafted Clemente to play for his team in the mid 50’s. As most thoroughbred fans know, Mr. Galbreath was the owner of the famed Darby Dan Farm (of Ohio and Kentucky) where he bred Kentucky Derby winners Proud Clarion and Chateaugay; Preakness and Belmont winner Little Current; Breeders’ Cup Classic winner Proud Truth; as well as the unique Roberto (Clemente’s namesake), winner of the Epsom Derby and an outstanding sire and sire of sires.
What is little known is that Roberto Clemente himself was a thoroughbred owner, albeit for a short while.
As told by horse racing chronicler Mr. Tomás G. Muñiz on his racing column for the Noticel web newspaper, Mr. Galbreath presented a yearling colt he’d bred in Ohio as a gift to Clemente, and had also paid for his transport from the United States to the “old” El Comandante racetrack near Carolina (incidentally Clemente’s home town), Puerto Rico.
Named Champion Bate, the son of Black Beard and Nemalia, by Nearco, did not really amount to much at the track; perhaps he knew there was no need to. Champion Bate was probably more than content to be always remembered as “Clemente’s horse.” And there is nothing wrong with that…