HALLANDALE BEACH, FL – Cuadra San Jorge’s Kukulkan was a popular and powerful winner in his return to Gulfstream Park, getting a well-timed ride from Irad Ortiz Jr. and dominating his four rivals with a six-length victory in Sunday’s $100,000 Copa Confraternidad del Caribe.
The 1 ¼-mile Copa Confraternidad was the first of four supporting stakes on a Clasico Internacional del Caribe program anchored by the $300,000 Clasico del Caribe for 3-year-olds. This marked the third straight year Gulfstream has hosted Latin America and the Caribbean’s premier Thoroughbred event.
Trained by Fausto Gutierrez and sent off as the 1-9 favorite, Kukulkan was wrapped up by Ortiz inside the eighth pole and hit the wire in 2:04.19 over a fast main track for his 16th career victory and the fourth of the afternoon for Ortiz.
Kukulkan joined former Gutierrez-trained stablemate Jala Jala in winning the Copa Confraternidad and Clasico del Caribe in back-to-back years. Mexico’s Triple Crown winner of 2018 that went undefeated in his first 14 starts, Kukulkan captured last year’s Clasico by 10 ¼ lengths.
Ortiz, the reigning Eclipse Award winner from Puerto Rico, also rode Jala Jala to her wins in the 2017 Clasico and 2018 Confraternidad.
“He’s such a nice horse,” Ortiz said of Kukulkan. “He’s got so much talent. It’s so special to get to ride him.”
Kandinsky, also trained by Gutierrez, and Hall of Famer John Velazquez were quickest from the gate and rolled through an opening quarter-mile in 24.47 seconds pressed by Panama’s Fray Angelico, the runner-up to Jala Jala each of the past two years. Justiciero, Puerto Rico’s 2017 Triple Crown winner gave chase in third, just to the outside of Kukulkan on the rail.
Velazquez and Kandinsky were still in front after splits of 49.34 for a half-mile and 1:13.73 for six furlongs, when Ortiz decided to make his move. Splitting Justiciero and Fray Angelico leaving the backstretch, they ranged up on the leaders three wide and coasted past, straightening for home well in command and pulling clear down the stretch.
Kukuklan won 14 consecutive races before experiencing his first career defeat in the $9 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational (G1) at Gulfstream in January. However, the 4-year-old son of Point Determined rebounded to win a strong allowance race at Churchill Downs in his next start and finish second in the West Virginia Governors Cup (G3) at Mountaineer two starts later.
Gutierrez was proud of Kukulkan’s effort and hinted that a return to graded competition is in the cards for his stable star.
“I think it was an obligation to run in this race here. I think he will run in another level here, back with the strong group. We will stay here and run in the stronger races,” Gutierrez said. “At this level, he is a champion of these horses. If we are being honest, the competition was not tough for him. We have to plan to run here in a good race, maybe a [Grade] 3.”