08/02/2013 3:10PM

Hastings: Starter in B.C. Cup Stellar’s Jay only part of Palma’s story

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Ruby’s Victory won his first three races, including the $50,000 River Rock Casino.

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Trainer Milton Palma is hoping for a big effort from Ruby’s Victory in the $50,000 B.C. Cup Stellar’s Jay at Hastings on Monday. The 1 1/16-mile race for 3-year-olds is one of six stakes that will make up most of the B.C. Day holiday card.

Ruby’s Victory got off to a great start in his career, winning his first three races, including the $50,000 River Rock Casino in his second start this year. He came up a bit short when he stretched out to 1 1/16 miles for the first time in the $50,000 Chris Loseth, but he could take a big step forward in his second route attempt.

Palma, 33, was also off to a great start in life when he was a boy growing up on his family’s farm, located roughly halfway between Guatemala’s capital of Guatemala City and the Mexican border. His family was wealthy, with more than 3,000 cows and close to 70 horses on their large stretch of land. It was a pretty idyllic way to live.

“It was nice,” said Palma. “We had a big farm, and I enjoyed working with the animals. A lot of what I learned working with the horses and cows helped me with what I am doing now.”

At 17 his life was turned upside down when his father, Guillermo, was kidnapped and murdered and his family was driven off their property. Besides being grief-stricken about losing his father, Palma was also shocked with how he, along with his mother and brother, were kicked off the farm.

“We were too young to know how it all happened, but my father’s ex-wife and children somehow got hold of the papers for the land and they had it all turned over to them,” he said. “I thought we were all one big family, but I was wrong.”
Before the dramatic events unfolded, his father had put 60 acres in another location in Palma’s name and for the next couple of years he decided to try and work the land. After feeling very nervous about his situation he decided to flee Guatemala.

“I just did not feel comfortable there,” he said. “Thinking about what happened to my father, I was always looking over my shoulder.”

He had an aunt living in the Vancouver area so he headed to Canada. After finding his way north he arrived at the Canadian border on Feb. 15, 1999, and asked to be allowed into the country as a refugee.

“I presented myself at the Peace Arch and I was there from eight o’clock in the morning until ten-thirty at night,” said Palma. “They kept asking me the same questions over and over again to see if I would change my story. I was very happy when they let me in.”

He started working at Hastings in 2000 and had his eyes opened immediately, working for a trainer for two weeks but getting paid only for one.

Palma changed barns and worked for Rob VanOverschot for the rest of the year. In 2001 he went to work for Terry Jordan. Palma was exposed to quality horses while working for Jordan, and he was a big cog in the wheel when Jordan was campaigning Canadian champions True Metropolitan and Dancing Allstar in 2006 and 2007.

“We had a lot of nice horses,” said Palma. “I certainly learned a lot working there.”
He also developed a close friendship with trainer Pete Gregory, who helped run the barn when Jordan was away developing a hotel in China. Gregory isn’t surprised by the success Palma is having with Ruby’s Victory. Palma, who speaks fluent English, has two horses in his stable, and he also serves as Gregory’s assistant trainer.

“He is very conscientious and he’s smart,” said Gregory. “He didn’t speak English when he came to work for Terry, and he worked really hard at learning the language. He also likes horses and he’s very patient with them.”

The other horse in Palma’s barn is My Dubai, a 4-year-old who won a $12,500 maiden claiming race July 28. My Dubai was trained by Gregory when he was a 2-year-old, and after he fractured a hind leg in his stall the attending veterinarian recommended he be euthanized.

“When I saw the X-rays I thought he should be put down, too,” said Gregory. “It looked like spaghetti.”

Palma had other ideas, though, and he convinced Gregory to let him try and save the horse.

“He kept him in a stall for a year, and amazingly the fracture healed,” said Gregory.
In his first start for Palma, My Dubai finished second in a $20,000 maiden-claiming race. After My Dubai finished third in a maiden special weight race Palma brought him back from a two-month layoff to win for $12,500.

“That’s one of the things he learned from Terry,” said Gregory. “Run them for less than they are worth.”

Palma has also developed a close friendship with jockey Mario Gutierrez, who along with Gregory paid Palma’s way to New York to see I’ll Have Another try and win the Triple Crown last year. He was obviously disappointed when I’ll Have Another was scratched, but doesn’t regret the trip.

“It was too bad, and Mario was devast

ated, but I really had a great time on the trip,” said Palma. “New York is a great city, and I loved Belmont.”

Palma’s been through too much in his life to be devastated if Ruby’s Victory doesn’t win the Stellar’s Jay. A win Monday would send him in the direction of the Grade 3, $150,000 British Columbia Derby Sept. 9. Remarkably, Palma isn’t bitter about what happened to him as a teenager.

“I was very angry when it happened, but I am enjoying my life in Canada now and I’m only looking forward, not back,” he said. “I’ll be very happy if Ruby’s Victory can win going long. If he can’t, well, we know he’s a pretty good sprinter, so we’ll look at other options.”