Clariss Guce has a long way to go to become the most accomplished professional athlete in her family. That’s because her dad, Ramon Guce, has won over 1,000 races as a jockey at Los Alamitos Race Track in Cypress, Calif. and was even a more accomplished rider in the Philippines before the family relocated to the United States In 2001.
Clariss, who ranks 12th on the current Volvik Race for the Card money list as a rookie, broke through with her first professional win three weeks ago at the Danielle Downey Credit Union Classic.
She phoned her dad after the victory and the first thing he wanted to know was what Clariss was going to buy him. The issue Clariss had with the question was that her dad won six races that very same week. Yes, dad even one-upped her first win.
“My dad was like ‘are you going to treat us to dinner?’ and I was like ‘what are you talking about, I won a tournament and you just won six races’ so six against one means he owed me something,” said Clariss. “It was a good week for the family.”
All joking aside, Clariss was born into a horseracing family. Ramon became a jockey right after high school and Clariss’ grandparents on both sides were trainers and she also has uncles that are jockeys.
“My mom and my dad actually met at the horse track so my whole family did horse racing,” said Guce, who used to shag golf balls for her grandfather at the track when he was practicing chipping. “If you say my last name in the Philippines, most people will know us as a horseracing family.”
The two tracks in the Philippines that were a “second home” for Clariss and her family were Santa Ana and San Lazaro.
“Santa Ana was in Makati and Lazaro was in Manila and we lived on the border of the two towns,” said Guce. “My dad wanted the challenge of riding in the U.S. so the whole family moved here in 2001.”
Clariss says it was a “culture shock” to move to the U.S. at 11-years-old.
“It seemed like more kids here stayed indoors where in the Philippines, you picked friends for the day and played outdoors all day,” said Guce. “Of course there was a language barrier as well. We knew some English because it is the second language in the Philippines, but it is one thing to learn it in school and another to live in a country where that is all they speak.”
It was also a very difficult transition for the family because Ramon was an established rider in the Philippines and quickly became just another jockey looking for horses in the U.S.
“He started in a new country where nobody knew him and he was working his way from the bottom,” said Guce. “He was a name jockey in the Philippines and kind of a nobody here.”
Guce, who estimated living a par-5 hole from the racetrack as a kid in the Philippines, spent countless hours at the track. Even when the family relocated, Clariss and her older brother, Arbhie, who is now an athletic trainer at Long Beach State, built a second home at the track and made many friends there. Guce remembers practicing her bunker shots at the track when the horses were gone. She would try and hit the balls over the railings.
“We ended up doing a lot of homework at the racetrack and that just became a normal place for us and an interesting practice facility for me,” said Guce, who doesn’t go much anymore because of her travel schedule. “We still keep up with horse racing and it was pretty cool when my dad won his 1,000th race. He had three years in a row where he broke his own single-season record for wins.”
You might think that golf and horseracing are incredibly different, but Clariss says that her dad can really relate to her golf career and his success has been an inspiration.
“He just knows the things that I am going through and he is able to give me advice in regards to in horseracing if you don’t win you don’t get any money and it’s the same way in golf,” said Guce. “When I was struggling earlier this year, he definitely understood what I was going through. Having a dad as a professional athlete, he knows the struggles even though he doesn’t play golf.”
Clariss has learned countless lessons from her dads early struggles including times as a young kid that the family was “strapped for cash” if her dad wasn’t winning races.
“The pressure was real for my dad, if you don’t win races, the family doesn’t eat,” said Guce. “Especially at Los Alamitos, it is a smaller track not like a Santa Anita or Del Mar where if you win a race you’re set. Santa Anita and Del Mar are like the LPGA and my dad is basically riding on Symetra (Tour). For him to win races was really, really crucial for the family when we first got here.”
Winning was a challenge at first because he wasn’t getting many rides and had to first prove himself. The family wound up travelling all over California with a horse fair.
“He was having trouble getting mounts in California so we would go to Texas and different places to try and get rides,” said Guce. “The early struggle was definitely finding a regular place to get a ride and having a consistent clientele to ride for.”
The early struggles eventually turned into a tremendous amount of success for Ramon and the Guce family.
In the U.S., as Clariss’ golf game was blossoming, her dad would drop her off at the Navy Course or Lakewood before going to the track and then pick her up when he was done.
“We just had to learn how to work each others schedules,” said Guce. “Most of the time, he would just drop me off and pick me up a lot later.”
The lesson learned for Clariss is definitely making the most out of your opportunities. When Ramon came to the U.S., he was an older jockey and not established. Nearly 15 years later, he’s established himself as a top jockey at Los Alamitos.
“He was already in his 30’s when he arrived here so it was hard for him to get a break,” said Guce. “He found a home at Los Alamitos and just made the most out of it.”
Now, Clariss is trying to go from a lightly recruited golfer at California State, Northridge to a spot on the biggest stage in women’s golf.