Motorists traveling recently along the Guadalajara-Chapala highway may have been puzzled by what looks like the structural foundations of a mighty cathedral rising up near the roadway between the airport and the Cajititlan turn-off. The towering tangle of iron girders is in fact the framework for what will soon turn into a temple for Mexico’s national sport — la charrería.
The masterpiece construction project is a pet venture bankrolled by famed Mexican singer and horse breeder Vicente Fernandez that will serve as headquarters for the 2005 Congreso y Campeonato Nacional de Charrería, equivalent to the World Series for the top competitors in traditional equestrian sports.
Although exact dates are yet to be confirmed, the two-week event is tentatively slated to get under way some time between late September and the first of November on the grounds of Fernandez family’s sprawling Tres Potrillos private ranching estate.
Attached to the property, and already long open to the public, is the popular Tres Potrillos country-style restaurant and an adjacent clothing store that stocks a wide array of boots, hats, western wear and equestrian accessories.
The name of the ranch and associated enterprises translates as Three Colts, in reference to the singer’s three grown male offspring: Vicente Junior, Gerardo and Alejandro. Livestock raised at the ranch centers on the pint-sized Miniature horse breed rarely found in Mexico, along with registered Quarter Horses, Paints and a small herd of South American llamas.
At the heart of the new complex rising up behind the walls is a gigantic sports arena specially designed to house charreria’s annual main event. The regulation lienzo will be fully roofed, with u-shaped grandstands and portable seating ample enough to accommodate 10,000 spectators, making it the largest and cushiest charro facility in the Republic.
The dimensions of the structure’s ceiling measure 192 meters in length and 164 meters in width. The construction site has been dug out to a depth of nearly 15 meters to lay out the competition area, while gates for public access are set at ground level and the mid-way point of seating elevation.
The overall building plan calls for cutting-edge lighting and sound systems, special installations for food services and commercial exhibitors, stables for 400 horses plus mobile stalls for an additional 200 head, and a parking area with space for 5,000 automobiles.
Project management and the supervision of a full-time 200-man work crew are in the hands of civil engineer Ramiro Cortez Orendain and Gerardo Fernandez, both accomplished charros in their own rights. Progress on the construction work is also subject to on-going inspection by a special panel representing the Mexican Charreria Federation (FMC).
The calendar for next fall’s Congreso will include daily programs for national championship individual and team competition in the ten traditional horsemanship events known as suertes charros and the national escaramuza championship contest, the dazzling women’s team riding event. Top ranking competitors take away 2005 model automobiles, horse trailers and other high value prizes.
The crack Tres Potrillos charro team is considered to be among those best positioned for victory this year. Founded in 1984, the team has consistently earned high rankings at top competition level, including the 2001 National Championship title.
Along with the annual convention of FMC associates, collateral activities that will also appear on the Congress agenda range from a commercial fair featuring a vast array of merchandise for horse and country life-style enthusiasts to big entertainment events that are sure to showcase the singing talents of both Vicente Fernandez and his star-status youngest son Alejandro. The patriarch of the clan is renowned for marathon performances that don’t end until the audience stops begging for encores.
The first phase of the arena building plan is slated for a May or June wrap-up, leaving the facility ready to host a series of special events that will precede the Congress and allow organizers plenty of time to work out any kinks. It is expected to be a key location for galas highlighted on next September’s International Mariachi Festival program.
However, the Congreso Charro is only a point of departure in the Fernandez family’s ambitious blueprint for the future. Under an expansion scheme that will follow, planners envision the lienzo charro growing into an oblong-shaped stadium for major sporting, musical and other massive events, offering audience capacity for up to 30,000 and all the first-rate technical gear needed to put it above par among the nation’s biggest and best public venues.
(After more than three decades in Mexico, bilingual jounralist Dale Hoyt Palfrey has become an earnest fan of charrería sports, following the circuit with her teenager daughter Andrea who currently competes in national level escaramuza competition with Guadalajara’s intrepid Rancho Los Olivos team.)