The biggest threat to Kentucky Derby winner California Chrome in the second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown comes from a Venezuelan-owned stable whose horses have names inspired by late President Hugo Chavez’s socialist revolution.
The colt Social Inclusion, a phrase frequently invoked by Chavez to describe his policies to help the poor, is projected to be the second betting favorite in tomorrow’s Preakness behind California Chrome, with Pimlico Race Course forecasting that he’ll have odds of 5-1.
Horses named after catchphrases of Chavez’s 14-year political program -- Red Constitution and Peace Militant are others -- have emerged from a stable in Pembroke Pines, Florida under the management of Ronald Sanchez. The 45-year-old Venezuelan, whose brother oversaw a purging of the capital markets in 2010 after Chavez named him head of the local securities regulator, has earned $149,400 in three starts for Social Inclusion this year.
“He’s a very talented horse,” Sanchez said via e-mail. “Everyone in the know thinks he’s the only real threat California Chrome has for the Triple Crown.”
Pimlico projected California Chrome would have odds of 3-5 in the Preakness, meaning a win on a $5 bet would earn $3.
Through his Rontos Racing Stable, named after the horse-like pack animals in Star Wars, Sanchez has worked with 85-year-old Venezuelan trainer Manny Azpurua to prepare Social Inclusion for this weekend’s 1 3/16-mile race. Sanchez said that he has rejected multiple bids for the horse, including a $7.5 million offer to buy a 75 percent ownership stake, which he purchased for $60,000.
Sanchez said he started his stable with a $16,000 investment in a horse named Bull Dozer, whose winning streak allowed him to buy six more horses.
“I’ve had a lot of luck but I’ve also shown talent for choosing them,” Sanchez said.
Social Inclusion drew notice in March when he set a track record with a 10-length victory at south Florida’s Gulfstream Park, his second win in a row at the racetrack. His performance made him the only three-year-old horse in America to run a faster race this year than California Chrome, based on the industry standard Beyer speed figures.
Sanchez said he was introduced to the phrase “social inclusion” from the work of late Portuguese writer Jose Saramago, an admirer of Chavez. “Red Constitution” came from Chavez’s habit of showing a miniature version of the country’s magna carta during televised speeches, Sanchez said.
Sanchez was a financial consultant for Venezuelan athletes before moving to the U.S. to start Rontos, his brother Tomas Sanchez said. In 2009, Tomas was appointed securities regulator and his father Tomas Sanchez Rondon was named as head of the state-run insurance company Bolivariana de Seguros y Reaseguros SA.
“We’ve been passionate about this sport for more than 25 years,” Tomas, the former securities regulator, said in a phone interview from Caracas.
Chavez, who died of cancer last year, used surging oil revenue to expand social programs from subsidized food to free health care that reduced extreme poverty and helped fuel the world’s fastest inflation.
A regular critic of capitalism and the rich, Chavez jailed about a dozen brokers for their supposed involvement in money laundering, an effort led in part by Tomas Sanchez. In 2010 Chavez assailed businessmen for drinking Scotch at country clubs, playing golf and traveling to Miami, saying they were trying to be like Americans.
“Rich people are lazy and almost all of them spend every day drinking whisky,” Chavez said.
Sanchez, who arrived in the U.S. in 2010, now owns about 60 horses in New York, Pennsylvania, California and south Florida. Rontos has collected about $2.6 million in earnings since its inception and is ranked 28th out of 17,267 stables in earnings this year with $668,711, according to data collected by Equibase. The Maryland Jockey Club raised the purse for this year’s Preakness to $1.5 million from $1 million.
Trainer Azpurua began working with the Rontos stable three years ago, Sanchez said, calling him a “legend” in Venezuela after winning more than 3,500 races. He’ll enhance that reputation with a victory over California Chrome, who has won five races in a row by a combined 26 lengths.
“I know we have a shot,” Sanchez said. “But I have a lot of respect for California Chrome. He proved that he’s an outstanding horse, and you’ve got to respect that.”
To contact the editors responsible for this story: Jay Beberman at email@example.com Bill Faries