Women control the two leading breeding operations in Panama and they will be playing a major role in determining the future of the country's Thoroughbred industry. Graciela Eleta, 71, operates Haras Cerro Punta, which was founded by her husband, Fernando, who died earlier this year. Raquel Eleta, 57, is in charge at Haras San Miguel, which is owned by her father, Carlos, who is Fernando's brother.
Graciela Eleta estimated that the two nurseries produce about a quarter of the 200 or so foals born in Panama each year.
I visited both farms Dec. 8. They are located in the province of Chiriqui, which is near the Costa Rican border. Haras Cerro Punta is located in the highlands, nestled at an elevation of 6,200 feet above sea level in the crater of an extinct volcano. Haras San Miguel is a 40-minute car ride away down a winding two-lane road.
Because its elevation is lower (800 feet above sea level), Haras San Miguel has a lush, warm tropical environment with a lot of jungle-like plants. Haras Cerro Punta is like a mountain resort, with cool breezes and stunning views. Swift, tiny hummingbirds buzz around bushes covered with yellow flowers. The farm, according to Graciela, was her husband's favorite place in the world and he is buried there.
Both women are enthusiastic about continuing the farms and excited about government action that will use 12% of casino revenue in the country to increase purses at Panama's racetrack, Hipodromo Presidente Remon, starting in 2012. There is a small casino at the track, but it doesn't generate a lot of money for racing, they said.
Each farm conducts a yearling auction annually and sells virtually all its young horses.
At Haras Cerro Punta, the focus is on quality, conformation, and stamina, Graciela said. Many of its horses are better as 3-year-olds than they are at two. Raquel said her father had a knack for choosing stallion prospects, and it is skill that she hopes to be able to develop. The rising purses in Panama will attract horsemen from other countries in Central and South America, she said, and breeders here will
have to raise horses that will be more competitive to do well against the stock from abroad.
In a move to upgrade, Raquel recently acquired Storm Treasure privately and he will stand at Haras de San Miguel in 2012. An 8-year-old stakes-winning son of Storm Boot, Storm Treasure finished second in the 2006 Toyota Blue Grass Stakes (gr. I) and third in the 2008 Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint. He earned more than $600,000.
Raquel would like to one day incorporate tourism into Haras San Miguel's operation. Visitors would stay there, learn about farm life, and be able to participate in caring for the horses and performing other chores. Daily tours are offered at Haras Cerro Punta and if you're lucky, or brave enough, you'll get to climb aboard the farm's huge, black Percheron stallion, Centurion. You need a step ladder, but the horse is docile and you feel like you're on top of the world.
Raquel Eleta and Graciela Eleta