Horse racing culture runs deep on the Colombian island of San Andres

SAN ANDRES ISLAND, Colombia (AP) — There’s no racetrack on the tiny Caribbean island of San Andres, but the passion for horse racing runs deep.

Thoroughbreds train on stunning white sand beaches and compete on a rocky trail through the forest.

The latest competition pitted 7-year-old mare Time Will Tell against Black Stallion in a one-kilometre race for a prize of $16,000. Three thousand people showed up for last weekend’s race, which was won by Time Will Tell, who had been training for days on the soft sands of the beach.

Ullis Livingston, one of her keepers, said he slept in the mare’s stable for three days before the race because he was worried someone might hurt the animal, and also because it is what “tradition dictates”.

Horse racing has a long history in San Andres and its sister island of Providencia despite their small populations – around 60,000 people combined – and their distance from the mainland, around 700 kilometers (435 miles).

The western Caribbean twin island archipelago is inhabited largely by English speakers and was once a British colony but is now a Colombian tourism mecca teeming with beachfront hotels, duty-free shops and resorts all-in.

At 69, Denis Hooker is the oldest jockey on the island. He said San Andres has 18 racehorses, sometimes competing with those brought in from Providencia.

Patrick Stephens said his grandfather taught him how to ride a horse, which used horses to transport coconuts when the island had few cars and unpaved roads. He said locals would race and bet on their draft animals.

Eventually finer horses were imported for racing.

Competitions used to take place on the beach. But the proliferation of hotels and tourists made this impractical, so they were moved to the forest trail. Yet jockeys can become local celebrities.

“People here look up to me. And a lot of kids ask me why I don’t keep doing this,” said Leadid de la Cruz, 44, the island’s first female jockey, who retired in late twenties.

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