Words and Photos by Rosana Rivera
[Video of race below] Every January 6th Puerto Ricans commemorate the “Día de los Reyes” (Day of the Epiphany), the date on which according to Catholic tradition, the Magi, or Three Wise Men, visited Baby Jesus with offerings of gold, frankincense and myrrh. Moreover, on this day, the islanders catch a second wind on the home-stretch of their extensive Christmas season. Probably the lengthiest in the world, the celebration begins shortly after Thanksgiving Day and ends on January 14th with what is known as the “Octavitas” (eight days after the 6th of January). What better way to celebrate the start of the “Octavitas” than heading to the Camarero Racetrack to witness a unique thoroughbred race that is now a yearly staple of every “Día de los Reyes”?
Yet, for this customary island venue there is no betting, the participants are not listed in the racing program, and there are no past performances available for the horses entered in the race. In fact, the winners of this race are not recorded into any of the racing records for posterity. The only assurance is that on every renewal there have always been four entries, and the “same” jockeys have competed recurrently. It happens that these gentlemen riders are none other than Three Wise Men (known as Gaspar, Melchor and Baltazar) along with a more recent influence in our culture, the presence of Santa Claus.
To provide a bit of history the race was part of a concept developed at the old El Comandante racetrack in Carolina, to attract younger fans. With that idea in mind, the management of the old track that was in operation from 1957 to 1977 fashioned a tradition that has withstood the test of time.
Needless to say this year’s renewal resulted in an enthusiastic cheering from the crowd when a visibly slender Santa Claus roused his steed to win the event by a nose. Without a doubt, the excitement demonstrated by the youngsters present during the event was comparable to the fever pitch of a Clásico del Caribe. I wonder how many of those children will cherish the memory of this race and blossom into full-fledged thoroughbred racing fans?