A Brief but Curious History of Horse Racing in Panama – Part II


The thrill and power of horse racing.

The thrill and power of horse racing.

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Colon

The City of Colon, naturally, was not excluded from the fascination of this sport and during the same period of time, around 1913, Colon’s streets became the venue for races involving two, and up to seven horses per race. The jockeys, especially in the case of Colon, normally traveled in anonymously from Kingston, Jamaica,  arriving first in Bocas del Toro on the United Fruit Company boats and later transferred to Colon on cargo boats. This highlights another fact that many of the first imported race horses seemed to have been brought into Panama in the same way.

For this complex activity we may credit one of the famed precursors, Mr. Henry “Takeaway” White who arrived in Panama, it is said, on May 6, 1913 and who was responsible for the importation of race horses as well as for the introduction, training and breaking in of the first professional jockeys.

White, a former jockey himself, was also the first individual to establish equestrian veterinary in Panama before the establishment of this specialty in the Republic.  But, more about “Takeaway” White in another post.

Another import from Jamaica which merits a worthy mention is the characteristic and flamboyant style of dress of the Jamaican jockeys whose gorgeous, brightly colored silk shirts were sewn by Jamaican seamstresses who lived in Colon.

Bocas del Toro

According to Panamanian Historian, Professor Ernesto Enrique Argote, by 1913 there existed in Guabito, Bocas del Toro, a racetrack known as Blair Park, the construction of which had been funded by the owners of The United Fruit  CompanyJ.J. Harrison, Sr., originally from Jamaica, and the Surgean family, a leading family from Jamaica living in the area were also enthusiastic co-organizers of this endeavor and exercised great influence in developing the sport in Bocas.

Through this activity, in particular, Bocas lived its Golden Age for many years becoming a cultural and entertainment center attracting people to its beautiful shores from all over the world.

The “Señores”

We would be remiss in relating this history if we didn’t mention the names of the notable citizens of Panama who were instrumental in promoting their passion turned professional sport.  Among the initiators of horseracing in Panama we must highlight the names of Enrique de la Guardia, Nicanor de Obarrio, Tomás Gabriel Duque, Raúl Espinosa, Francisco Arias Paredes, Carlos Muller, and H. Toledano.  By the same token, however, an equal number of prominent Westindian figures in Panama must be taken into account.   Among them were Henry “Takeaway” White, Egbert Edward Gittens, Llewelyn Welch, Gaspar Omphroy, John (Arthur Doyle) Williams, Gerald Silvera and others.

Mr. Egbert Edward Gittins, originally a tailor by profession, figured prominently in horse racing’s infancy in Panama around the 1920’s.  Together with his friend Mr. Enrique de la Guardia, his observations based on experiences from his participation in Jamaican horse racing were often respected in the development of Panama’s first race track.  He has been credited with suggesting changing the shape of the race track from running in a straight line to the rounded or ellipse course that we see today in The Hipódromo Presidente Remón Cantera.

Mr. Gittin’s vast knowledge of led him to become coach and trainer for many jockeys as well as trainers and handlers both within Panamanian territory as within the area administered by  the Government of the United States of America- the Canal Zone.  He was a key figure in organizing Carioca Racecourse, a rather rudimentary Racetrack which operated in the former Canal area around 1930.

Today:  The Horse Racing Hall of Fame

Hípica de Panamá, S. A. in league with many different interest groups associated with horse racing recently opened the Horse Racing Hall of Fame on April 28, 2009 in order to honor the many great past and present figures in the Sport of Kings in Panama. It was, however, preceded by an award ceremony on the 26th during which very little mention of the outstanding Westindian figures was made.  The name of Roberto E. “Bobby” Reid, young champion jockey of the early 1940’s, was included on the list and we will have the honor of reviewing his life in upcoming posts.

Horse racing history in Panama would not be complete without the dynamic figure of Henry “Takeaway” White, however, and I will introduce this vibrant Jamaican in our next post.

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6 responses to “A Brief but Curious History of Horse Racing in Panama – Part II

  1. Georges Stokes

    Mr. Reid,

    My name is Georges Stokes, I am the grand son of Mr. Gerald Silvera. My mother, Marcela V. Stokes (Silvera) is his oldest daugther. If any Silvera’s want to get in touch with me please do so.

    stokes-stuff@cox.net

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  2. I remember watching “Bobby Reid” ride many winners. My grandfather Rochie Field (Transplanted Trinidadian) owned,trained,and was a starter at Juan Franco. He trained for Pancho Arias. I have many photos of those Juan Franco days. I also have the original jockey license of the great Chici Moore who was only 10 years old.

    I commend you on your reports of West Indian history of Panama. A most recent remarkable Panamanian West Indian athlete is from Colon. His name is Leonardo Barker, a Colonense and the only Panamanian NFL football player who played 8 years for the Cincinnati Bengals including the 1989 Super Bowl.

    Best wishes and continued success.

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    • Good to see you here on our Heritage web site Mr. Downing!

      It looks like the excellence of character that has run in our veins, as Westindian Panamanian people, has manifested itself in your family as well. Thank you for sharing the name and accomplishments of your grandfather Roche Field with us. We would love to write a memorial to him and we are sure that our many readers would also appreciate seeing some of those photos to which you refer. Many of our readers are, for the first time, seeing images of their rich heritage thanks to the Internet and to generous collaborators who value our work here at the Foundation.

      As for Leonardo Barker, we would appreciate receiving as much information on his life as possible so that we may include him in our Exceptional Silver People Profiles section.

      BTW, stay tuned for our profile of Roberto “Bobby” Reid who has been an outstanding example for the Silver People of Panama.

      Again thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. Please promise that we will hear from you again.

      RR

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  3. My grandfather was Gerald Silvera, the Panamanian Trainer. I am trying to find out as much info as possible about him, Hippodromo etc. can anyone help me? thanks! lisasilvera@mac.com

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