CARACAS, Wednesday April 01, 2009 | Update
This was a significant time for Venezuelan sports. Cañonero won the world's greatest horserace: the Kentucky Derby. Gustavo Ávila, Juan Arias and others played a role in the triumph. Further, four Venezuelans would also become boxing world champions. Antonio Gómez, Betulio González, Alfredo Marcano and Vicente Paúl Rondón imprinted their names on the boxing record books, a feat that remains unmatched to date
Cañonero won the Kentucky Derby on May 1, 1971 at Churchill Downs, Kentucky. It was a surprise from every standpoint File Photo: Andrés Mata Foundation
Long-time horse-racing fans still fill with pride whenever they hear or say the name Cañonero. A horse capable of bringing joy to a whole country by winning several times the world's greatest horserace: the Kentucky Derby.
This magnificent feat was accomplished on May 1, 1971 at Churchill Downs, Kentucky. It was a surprise from every standpoint. Cañonero, a rather ordinary horse, did not even have a good start to the race and was in the back of the pack. But his jockey, Gustavo Ávila, knew how to interpret the horse's hidden power and made it run on the outside of the track. The horse's power shocked 129,994 spectators, a record crowd, in the last turn. He crossed the finish line and won by over three lengths.
Cañonero was born in the United States and was sold for almost USD 7,000 to Venezuelan Pedro Baptista. The pride and honor inspired by Cañonero upon all Venezuelans was the work of Gustavo Ávila, its jockey; Juan Arias, trainer; and Juan Quintero, its caretaker, in addition to its owner.
Four boxing greats
1971 was an important year in sports for the country. Not only did Cañonero win the Kentucky Derby, the most prestigious horserace in the plane, but four Venezuelans would also become world champions, a feat that remains unmatched to date.
Antonio Gómez, Betulio González, Alfredo Marcano and Vicente Paúl Rondón imprinted their names on the boxing record books.
Vicente Paúl Rondón was the first to achieve victory on February 27. He was proclaimed world light heavyweight champion by knocking out US Jimmy Dupree in New Jersey. Soon after, boxers Antonio Gómez and Alfredo Marcano would accomplish similar feats. Gómez won, on September 3, the featherweight world championship by knocking out Japan's Shozo Saijo in the fifth round. Marcano earned the WBA junior lightweight championship belt by knocking out then titleholder Hiroshi Kobayashi on July 30.
Betulio González's rise to stardom was not quite as fast. He became champion after it was proven that his rival, Philippine Erbito Salavarría, had used illegal substances during their fight originally scored as a draw.
Sports were not the only source of good news. It was also a good year for the economy: the Venezuelan bolivar revalued 10 cents and closed at 4.40 per US dollar, oil prices rose significantly and it was ruled that only the government could extract the country's natural gas resources. At an international scene, talks between Colombia and Venezuela on marine and submarine areas of the Gulf of Venezuela were once again underway.
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