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Robert Hales recounts the beginning of Horse Race in Cayo

Posted: Monday, April 3, 2023. 8:53 am CST.

By Zoila Palma Gonzalez: We are only days away to Easter festivities in the Twin Towns of San Ignacio and Santa Elena including the annual Holy Saturday Easter classic and Holy Saturday horse race.

Robert Hales shared that on April 14, 1990, Holy Saturday horse races returned to San Ignacio.

“I can recall vividly the day I went to visit Hon. Daniel Silva at his house on Burns Ave. to ask him for his assistance and support in bringing back our Holy Saturday horse races to Cayo.  He said that if I could get enough people on board and organize a meeting that he would come and help in any way he could.  Needless to say, our first meeting was a big success,” Hales stated.

Hales says that those present included Jalil Bedran Jr. who had agreed for them to use a property he had on the branch mouth road as the site for the racetrack, Johnny Roberson Sr. and his son Johnny Roberson Jr., Escander Bedran Jr., Abdalah Bedran, Rudy Juan and Santiago Juan, Junior Simmons, Bill Pagett, Theodore “Theo” Lennan, Alejandro “Chiribico” Rodriguez and Alejandrito and Amir, Valentin Vasquez, Luis August, brothers Marcos, Joe and Ezekiel Martinez from Martz Farm, Bobby Hales and many others.

“Silva was so surprised at the turnout that he agreed to assist us in every way he could.  That Monday morning Hon. Dan Silva had a brand new Caterpillar D7 high tack bulldozer en route to do all the land clearing for us,” Hales added.

In addition, Hales says that Johnny Roberson from Maya Ranch had several of his cowboys and ranch hands cutting Cohune leaves and sticks for stables and paddocks.

“Jalil and I were busy transporting all the leaves and sticks with a tractor and cattle trailer that belonged to Abdalah Bedran of Running W Brand meats. Junior Simmons and his crew were also busy day after day hauling lumber in his old blue Land Rover.  All the lumber for the grandstand was donated by Johnny Roberson Jr. who owned the old Yalbac Sawmill,” Hales shared.

Hales says that the community worked together to build the racetrack in less than 2 months.

“We cut hundreds of botan posts at Maya Ranch for the track rails and several guys from Central Farm came to cut them at an angle with their chainsaws so we could nail the 1×6 rails to them.  It was teamwork at its finest. A Public Works grader was also dispatched out there to make the 1/2 mile oval track,” Hales commented.

The Smith family also helped by providing their land for parking and the horse race came alive with 15 races that day.

“Probably the biggest horse race meat I have ever seen in Belize. We had horses from all over the country show up as well as just about every village in the Cayo area.  We had village horse races, cattle horse races and 2 derbies! Monsignor Castillo from Belize City came to bless the track and Hon. Daniel Silva was there as well as Hon. George Cadle Price who gave a beautiful speech recalling the days of horse racing in Cayo and how happy he was to see the traditional Holy Saturday horse races return to Cayo once again,” Hales stated.

Years later, the track was moved to the property belonging to Peter August and family in Santa Elena where horse racing is still very much alive and booming despite the many obstacles that the Cayo Jockey Club has faced in the past.

It is a true testament to the love and passion that our Cayo people have for the sport of Horse Racing.  Long live Cayo Horse Racing!


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