Eventually the horses in his Rontos Racing Stable — also named for a horse-like animal in one of the Star Wars movies — outnumbered his family. He now has 65 after moving his operation from Venezuela to Florida two years ago.

After carving out a living by taking inexpensive claimers to the winner's circle, Sanchez purchased Social Inclusion for $60,000 as a yearling. When the horse won his first two races by a combined 171/2 lengths, Sanchez was offered $8 million to sell.

Unable to strike a deal to keep a share of the horse and, more importantly, retain 85-year-old trainer Manny Azpurua, a fellow Venezuelan whom he grew up admiring, Sanchez decided not to sell and remains Social Inclusion's sole owner.

"To tell you the truth, this is the dream of a lifetime [for Azpurua]," Sanchez said. "That's why I didn't sell the horse. I wanted to keep it for him. Of course, when you have somebody who's going to buy your horse, they're going to want to take it. The best for the horse is keeping it with Manny because he knows it very well."




Sanchez said that Social Inclusion is completely recovered from a foot injury that was discovered the morning of a May 3 race at Gulfstream Park. Social Inclusion, who also finished third in the Wood Memorial, was the first in this year's Preakness field to arrive on Saturday.

"Since the Wood, he grew up a lot," Sanchez said. "He turned 3 May 1, he's a baby. Hopefully we were the first ones to be on the ground [in Baltimore] and we're ... the first to hit the wire," Sanchez said. "That's going to be nice for us."

Sanchez knows what it would mean for his business to add a victory in his first Triple Crown race. He is even thinking about what he would say if Social Inclusion wins.

"I feel like a Marylander about this place," he said Monday. "I want to win this race badly because I have a lot of things to say about the state of Maryland."

If that happens, Sanchez will also think about his late grandmother, Cruz Mejias, who died in 2002.

All those long weekend walks to the track in Caracas. The horse he named for her years back.

"She's taking care of me and my horses," Sanchez said, tears starting to well in his eyes.

don.markus@baltsun.com

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