MEXICO CITY (AP) — Mexico's only major horse racetrack comes to life at 5 a.m. each day as hundreds of stable workers begin to take the 1,400 racehorses out of their stalls and gallop them around the track before washing and feeding them.
Despite ranking low among racetracks in Latin America because of its small purses, the Hippodrome of the Americas bustles with activity, and with jockeys lured by Mexico's proximity to the United States.
"Here the jockeys dream to go to the United States to ride and not to stay here in Mexico," said Ricardo Mar, the track's director.
Purses pay out an average of $2,300 for the winning horse, which is enough to pay the jockey and cover two months of expenses for the horse.
"We don't have enough people involved in the big betting, so we can't get the wagers we want for higher prizes," Mar said.
But low prizes don't keep jockeys from across Latin America from coming to Mexico City with hopes of earning a reputation that will let them venture to the United States, where a top rider can earn millions.
Among those who have made the move are Kentucky Derby winner Victor Espinosa, Mario Gutierrez and Panamanian Elvis Trujillo.
Many of the stable workers at the 71-year-old racetrack have worked in the United States, another incentive for riders hoping to hear about how things work in American tracks.
Stable worker Carlos Moreno, 22, lived for a while in the U.S., where his father worked at tracks in Detroit, Indianapolis and Houston and taught him about racehorses.
"The horses are our friends and I like working with them every day," Moreno said, even though he'd recently been kicked in the face by one of them.
Moreno suffered a cut nose and some bruising.
"It could have been a lot worse," he said, in perfect English.