Archive of ‘Horseman’s Digest Archive’ category

HD: Horseman’s Profile: Jeci Aquino Lapus

Horseman’s Digest #6 (March-April 2008  issue)

by Jenny Ortuoste (writing as “Jane Ortega”)

 Patience Makes Perfect

Cong. Jeci Aquino Lapus proves that all things come to those who wait

 On each wrist, he wears a bracelet of lucky beads from Tibet, “to attract luck”. As he speaks, he twists them absentmindedly. He believes in feng shui, but also that you have to work at your luck, that it doesn’t just come to you. In short, he covers all his bases, lays his plans carefully, and waits for their fruition. “I’m very patient,” he declares.

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Jeci “Bong” Aquino Lapus, congressman from the third district of Tarlac, knows that life often manifests the unexpected and withholds the desired. Two elections back, he ran for mayor in his hometown – but lost. Disappointed but undismayed, he bided his time. “I thought it was not the right time. I told myself, I would just run for congressman in 2007.”

He spent the intervening years ministering to the bailiwick of his brother, then-congressman and now Department of Education Secretary Jesli A. Lapus, in Tarlac, where they called Bong, “Vice Cong.” The patience paid off. Last year, he beat five other opponents – several of them relatives on the Aquino side – and took 48% of the votes, a landslide. “I won pulling away by 22,000 votes. I never dreamed I would be a congressman this soon.”

On the morning of this interview, he is in his private room at his stable at Santa Ana Park. It was the day he and other congressmen voted Jose de Venecia out of the Speakership. Before proceeding to House of Representatives for the stressful voting session that afternoon, he relaxed by visiting his horses.

Two mobile phones beeped incessantly as he watched the ANC business channel. The screen showed a video of a gathering that had taken place the night before at the home of the president’s son. Congressmen and other politicos were seated at round tables, talking. He points. “That’s the back of my head.” He watches intently, and as the camera pans around, he gesticulates and grins. “That’s me!” Though fully aware that he is to help make history later that day, he shows no sign of tension.

He brings to horse racing the same serenity he brings to politics. “I started in 1970,” he says. It is unusual that he has been in the sport for almost four decades, yet his name is barely known in racing circles. Shrugging, he remarks, “I’m not in it to be famous. I just love horses.” He mentions the horsemen in his family. “I inherited my love of horses from my uncle on the Aquino side, the brother of my mother. He had horses, as did my cousin Senator Ninoy Aquino.”

A natural speaker, words flow freely as he gestures animatedly. The story of his journey in racing is one of his favorite topics. “My first horse was Dong. I got him from Mr. Aniban,” he says. “Later I had Supreme Element, a native horse. It won the Sweepstakes in 1980. Maliit na kabayo.”

Back then, Bong explains, races were classified according to the size of the horse: minore siete, minore 60, and the third, “no height limit. Race horses then were not all Thoroughbreds but backyard horses. Trainer Rosendo Mamucod helped me get Supreme Element for P9,000.”

 Supreme Element (Colossus Toso out of Star of Banaba) was, he emphasizes “maliit talaga. Kaya noong sukatan para sa Sweepstakes na iyon, may nagbiro, “Bong, bakit ka naman nagpasukat ng kambing?” His opponents in that race were larger, the likes of Luzuriaga’s runner Feathers and Fernando Poe Jr.’s Lord Joseph. “T-breds were selling at P60,000, maganda na yun,” he recalls. “Wala pa ung mga imported noon.”

For decades he languished at the bottom of the rankings, but as his fortunes improved, he started buying better runners. Bong has a knack for identifying overlooked or worn-out horses in bigger stables and nursing them back to health, extending their racing career and ensuring a modest rate of growth for his operations at minimal cost.

“In 2006 I was at rank #16 or #17,” Bong remembers. He has come a long way since then. In 2007, he ranked eighth overall, with total prize money of P10,343,667.69. Out of 361 starts, his stable has a 37-47-45-36 record. That’s 165 “in the money” finishes, a percentage of 45.7 percent for this nearly invisible horse owner.

In fact, with only twenty or so horses, he has fared much better than many other owners, some of whom have sunk millions of pesos in imported horses but whose stables’ earnings don’t reflect their investment.

He wasn’t quite as fortunate some years back. “I was able to gather a pretty good batch, but then the EIA (equine infectious anemia) epidemic hit and all my horses were wiped out. I started buying again one by one. Luck was with me at the time; I won the Winner-Take All,” he laughs.

Other men would have quit the game in frustration or despair. Bong, patient as ever, rode out the crisis. “Slowly, slowly, I replenished my stable. Some horses came from Hermie Esguerra, older ones like War Alert and Joint Account. I recently acquired Capretiosa from him. Harrod’s Magic and Modern Classic came from Peping Cojuangco.”

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War Alert, with a cheerful Patty Dilema up, after a regular race at Santa Ana Park in 2 March 2008. Patty wears Bong Lapus’s eye-popping purple and chartreuse silks, a combination Bong says he chose for maximum visibility “even at the backstretch.”

Bong’s mind, it is apparent, is very linear and organized. An engineering graduate, he also has an MBA from the Asian Institute of Management. He explains about making decision trees and applying other quantitative methods of analysis not only to business but also to life.

In his racing operations, he insists on the need to plan and program. “You can’t run your horses to the extent of exhaustion,” Bong maintains. “You program them to run at most six months of the year because you have to preserve them. Athletes do have to rest.” He does practice what he preaches; his walls are covered with charts that provide guidance and instructions for his grooms. The charts bear the names of his horses, timetables for the duration of their active campaign, the dates for their vacations, and supplement and vitamin regimens and dosages.

Over and over Bong emphasizes the need to keep horses sound. “Are we sheiks or shahs that don’t look after them? So I don’t force my horses. Let them run and seek their own group. If you treat them properly, they will come up to it; you don’t need to worry about monthly financing.”

The energetic politico shares, “I’m not into breeding. So I just use the Mamon or Rupisan farm to spell my horses.” He ticks off from a mental list. “Joint Account and Modern Classic are now on vacation; Pivotal is coming from a year-long rest; Money Man, from nine months’ spell. Capretiosa is now on vacation but will be back on the tracks by June. She had a chip bone so I rested her for a year. There should be a program for running and resting.”

Pressed to choose his favorite, Bong says, “At present it’s Pivotal. I was lucky with it, won a lot on the Winner-Take-All and other bets. But the winningest is Modern Classic with 13 wins in her group.” He is also proud of the others. “Ferrarione, ten wins. Joint Account, also winning!” Although not all his runners are performers, he takes it in stride. “As long as some horses are winning, I’m not affected by the ones that are not.”

As he nears his fortieth year as a horse owner, Bong surveys the future of racing. “I still have to look at the forecast of the Philracom (Philippine Racing Commission), what they envision the racing industry to be. I think they should be more realistic. Currently, good horses are rewarded too much, while bad horses are punished too much. I’m talking about last year’s inflated purses for some stakes races benefiting only a few big owners, and recently the return of the 75-meter rule for horses who reach the finish line late.”

His wish for the industry? “For it to prosper. Also, officials need to be more considerate to the medium-size horse owners, those who have ten or a dozen horses, and not to blindly think that a couple of stables are the key to success. It takes everybody to tango,” he concludes, blithely mixing metaphors as he scoops up his mobile phones and heads to his car, bound for Congress and the pages of political history.

Congressman and “Top Ten” horseowner Bong Lapus has never advocated instant gratification, but knows that the best-laid plans need patience – and luck – to succeed. For him, the combination of feng shui and fortitude constitute his winning formula. ***

Related stories:

HD: George Young Stribling Profile

HORSEMAN’S DIGEST for March-April 2008, by Jenny Ortuoste 

 George Young Stribling: Master Horseman

An American who considers himself a “born-again Filipino” reminisces about racing’s past

By Jenny Ortuoste

This article was, for me, an honor and a privilege to write. The subject is my mentor, George Y. Stribling, who taught me the rudiments of flat race riding during my jockeys’ apprenticeship in 1990.

I could have written at length about the history of the Philippine Jockeys’ Academy that he helped establish and still runs today, is very proud of, and which he considers his lasting legacy to the sport. But I chose rather to dwell on his personal story – the story of a remarkable man whom few people in racing know, but to whom Philippine racing in a large part owes the shape and form it has today.

WITHOUT a doubt, the most successful project the Philippine Racing Commission (Philracom) has ever undertaken is the Philippine Jockeys’ Academy. Responsible for upgrading the professionalism, knowledge, and standards of riders, the “Academy” was founded on 7 April 1980 with the support of the then-chairman of the Philracom, Nemesio I. Yabut, in cooperation with Leo Prieto of the Manila Jockey Club (MJC), Antonia Reyes of Philippine Racing Club (PRC), the first Philracom chairman Eduardo “Danding” M. Cojuangco Jr., MARHO (Metropolitan Association of Race Horse Owners) president Justice Federico Moreno, Manila Mayor Ramon Bagatsing, equestrienne Fortuna Marcos Barba, and other racing luminaries.

Appointed to be its director was George Young Stribling, an American who had come halfway around the globe in search of tropical warmth and a fresh start. A horseman par excellence – rider, trainer, and owner – he reshaped Philippine racing and made it closer to globally-acknowledged standards.

Now 91, he has made Manila his home for almost thirty years. He has never left the country since his feet first touched its welcoming soil in 1979. His mind, sharp and clear as ever, instantly recalls names, dates, places, circumstances. His snapping green eyes are alive and full of fire. On his head, he always has a soft hat that’s color-coordinated to his shirt. Fond of television and fried chicken, he rules each batch of the Academy with an iron hand and a wooden rod which he does not hesitate to apply to the backsides of the more “foolish” of his students.

A consummate storyteller, he is a treasure trove of tales, a keeper of history, an archive of the past of American and Philippine racing.

This is his story.

Young George

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Born 9 March 1917 in Kentucky to Loretta and Garnett “Bee Dee” B. Stribling, George was raised in Washington close to Seattle and grew up “around horses. I was raised within six miles of Longacres racetrack in Washington. Highline High School in Seattle, which I attended, was two miles away.”

The young George enjoyed singing and eagerly participated in school concerts and other activities. His high school yearbook, “The Pirates’ Log”, records that he was a member of the Tennis and Music Clubs; took part in the Senior Vodvil, Glee Club, and Torch Society; and in his senior year, was a member of the Track team and manager of the Football team.

Throughout his education, he was actively involved with horses and when “Strib” obtained his diploma in May 1934, he embarked on a profession that revolved around his love of thoroughbreds and racing.He started working at Longacres and eventually became superintendent there. His fascination for racing took him all over the US.

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Churchill Downs, 1936

“From 1912 to 1933,” he recounts, “during the Prohibition period, there was no racing in the US, only in a few places for short meetings – at Churchill Downs in Kentucky, Fairgrounds in New Orleans, Hialeah in Miami, Belmont Park in New York. Also in a few tracks in Mexico and Canada. There was no racing and no pari-mutuel wagering until 1933, when racing was legislated back in by Franklin D. Roosevelt when he was president.”

With racing legal again, George attended as many rodeos and fairs as he could to gain experience in horsemanship. “We used to go from one meeting to another in a covered wagon. When I was 15, I saw Phar Lap run. Horses were on heroin that time. This was just after racing came back.”

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Phar Lap, 1932

Back then, horse races were difficult to manage as only rope was used to hold the horses back at the start. George remembers the inception of a piece of racing equipment we take for granted – the starting gate.

“I knew Clay Puett when he was a starter and designing a gate,” George says. “He became a state steward. Later he sold the rights of the Puett gate to United. But he later developed a gate where the horse couldn’t move his head; when it opened, the front of the stalls were clear plastic so the horse could see ahead. I recall he (Puett) was a real gentleman.”

The young George had a front-row seat to the resurgence of racing and was an eager witness to the latest developments. Racetracks sprang up all over the nation. “Bay Meadows opened its doors on 12 Sept 1934. I was there. Santa Anita Park opened its doors on 25 December 1934. I was there too. Hollywood Park opened its doors in 1937. Del Mar, in 1937. I was also there.”

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Opening day at Del Mar, San Diego, CA, 3 July 1937

He was in California when Pearl Harbor was bombed. His recollection of that historic time? “There was never any racing for five years, as Santa Anita was converted into a military barracks.”

Thar’s Gold in Them Thar Tracks

Having a business turn of mind, George decided to raise horses. “Sometime in the 1930s, I had two farms in the state of Washington where I bred horses. I had a 22-acre stump farm, full of timber, which I cleared to make paddocks for horses. In 1940, I got a 2500-acre farm also in Washington. That was real wild country – deer, bear, cougars. When I moved East, I gave the farm to my parents – my father died there.”

George became a highly successful trainer and invested in more real estate to pursue his breeding operations. “In the ‘50s I went to Ohio, to a little burg called Mechanicstown. There wasn’t a hundred people that lived there. I saw a little place, and got it in 1955 as a lay-up farm. On my property I made a quarter-mile indoor track, twenty feet wide, and built my own stable with my own money. I could train all the time, even when it was snowing.”

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Among other things, George taught jockeys and later became a jockeys’ agent. “I started Eddie Maple to ride. Jesse Davidson was leading rider, leading apprentice in 1958. Next year it was Frankie Northcutt who was leading apprentice.”

He continued to train and race his own horses into the 1960s.  ”Clem’s Heart, I claimed for $3,500. It ran six times, was a runner-up, and claimed for $8,000. He had lots of speed but was peculiar to eat.” It ran best under one of George’s regular riders, Barry Alberts. The horse’s groom was the jockey’s wife, Nancy Alberts, a colorful person who was a descendant of the wealthy Dupont family and later owned a horse that won the Preakness.

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George with Nancy Alberts holding Clem’s Heart, Barry Alberts up.

George recalls another horse he owned named Brown Native, which was often ridden by Frankie Northcutt – “the greatest rider I have ever known. Even at 40, and he had been through the Vietnam War and all, he was still the greatest rider ever,” says George. Sadly, Northcutt never gained fame nor fortune as he struggled all his life with alcoholism and other personal demons.

George made a lot of money on his horses, betting on them and selling them, but eventually the tides of his fortune changed course. He endured heartbreak and loss, too painful for him to speak of. To escape the hurt, he became a gypsy.

Roving Heart

George wandered all over the Americas, participating in horse racing wherever he found it. “I have raced all over the Americas, clear from Canada to Argentina and Chile,” he reveals. “I moved from the US West Coast to East Coast, to Canada and British Columbia. I have raced in all countries of North and South America where they have horse racing. I’ve had owner’s and trainer’s licenses in Mexico, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic. In the ‘40s, I was in Venezuela. Then in Brazil. I trained there for the biggest coffee merchant in the world, in Rio.   I went to Argentina, where I did buying and selling of horses, but the climate didn’t agree with me. I spent ’72 in Buenos Aires, where I discovered unpunctuality is an old Spanish custom.”

He returned to the US and at Entremont, North Carolina, built a magnificent training facility with a stall for juveniles, cottage barns, a covered track, and even a lake with a dock for swimming horses. But an accident in Ohio years before and other subsequent injuries undermined his health. He flew to Puerto Rico to recuperate.

George says, “In Puerto Rico, I was swimming everyday. There I met a six-foot, two-hundred pound Jew from Brooklyn named Jerry. He was badly crippled with arthritis. We kept in touch. Later this guy wrote me that he had gone to the Philippines, and that his arthritis got alleviated and he could stand up straight.”

No Place Like Manila

Deciding to see for himself what his friend Jerry was raving about, George flew to Manila in July 1979. He was 62. He has never returned to the US since.

“Jerry got me a place at Chateau de Manille,” George says. “After ten days, I went to Santa Ana Park. Here I met Jim Hall, three years older than myself, who had come over with MacArthur. Jim trained for Tony Martin. He went back to the US when Ninoy (Aquino) was shot. Jim also trained for Mr. Santos, Pedro Cojuangco, and Mr. Gatmaitan.”

George subsequently met many people in Philippine racing, and recalls that the original idea of a school for jockeys came “from Leo Prieto. He had set up the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) and was the first PBA commissioner. Rudy Salud was Leo Prieto’s protégé. They prevailed upon me to stay in the country.”

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The idea of a jockeys’ academy met with much opposition initially, mostly from people who were reluctant to embrace change and innovation.  ”We had an awful time getting the Academy started because the jockeys and some Philracom commissioners were against it. Later this commissioner apologized and said that I had done a great job.”

The PJA opened its doors to the first batch of apprentices on 7 April 1980. George has written before that “the PJA was designed and perpetrated for the purpose of improving the skills and talents of the Filipino jockeys, to bring them to equal or superior quality of jockeys throughout the horseracing world, and to create a market for Filipino horsemanship any and everywhere throughout the racing world where skilled jockeys and horsemen are in demand, thus remitting dollars to the Philippine treasury and to bolster the economy.”

A very tall order indeed. Has George succeeded in pulling it off?

He takes out a detailed list of all the Academy batches, their win-loss records, money earned, their whereabouts. He is very proud of the riders working overseas, mentioning jockeys Tuazon, Osit, Dayaca, and Higinio Borbe in the UK. “Let me tell you, those boys and two others are getting 13,000 English pounds a year, that’s US$26,000 a year, and they have contracts for five years!”

Many Academy graduates, George says, are in Japan as exercise riders and grooms, where the minimum wage is $1,500 a month. “Some jockeys are making more than that,” he says. “Others even have businesses on the side. Osumo is a travel agent.”

Another rider he’s proud of is Jeffrey Dino, from Academy Three. “That boy was in a lot of trouble before,” he says. “But now, Jeffrey is the stable foreman of the King of Saudi Arabia, along with Padua and Romy Baylon, and he’s making twice what they’re making.” Ramon Guce, he says, has a fairly successful career in the US, where he earned $33,000 in 2007, while his brother Lyndon made $22,000.

The demand for skilled Filipino riders is high, George says. “I got contacted by Pat Payne from Australia, and he wants three apprentices to ride in Melbourne and Sydney, while just recently (Australian racecaller) Peter Morrison wants an apprentice to ride in Western Australia.” Academy graduates “have been dispatched to places like England, Ireland, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, Cyprus, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Turkey, Bahrain, Qatar, Japan, the US, and other countries.”

The Endearing Filipinos

George has made the Philippines his home, and not the least among those that endeared the country to him is its people. “I have met so many wonderful people here,” he says, “among them Rudy Prado (former MJC Racing Manager). I consider him to be a very good fellow. Pete Paraiso, formerly of MJC, was a really terrific gentleman, the comptroller of Prieto businesses like Dunkin’Donuts and Shakey’s. Mayor Ramon Bagatsing was a very fine man. But I don’t think I have met a nicer man than Leo Prieto. He kept talking about having a riding school for jockeys. He pushed for it a long time. I also consider Putch Puyat a very true friend. About Juaning Macaraig, in all of the years I knew him, I never heard him say a bad thing about anyone, even when he was very angry.”

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George at the Jockeys’ Quarters, Santa Ana Park. (14 Jan 2008)

Apart from the friends he has made along the way, George also credits this country with giving him a chance to make a new life in the sport that he loves. He threw his heart and soul into bringing about the changes he felt were necessary and appropriate.

“Some of the major projects I have been responsible for are getting rules changed, such as disqualification rules; rules for the Academy; and I am responsible for straightening the mile out here at Santa Ana; they built out a shoulder on that turn to bring it out.” He elaborates that “mile” here in the Philippines is the metric mile, “which is 39 feet short of the statute mile, where 100 meters equals 1/8 mile. At Santa Ana Park, the 6-1/2 furlong track is built on the statute mile.” George was also “the one who got in the 900-meter sprints. I tried to get claiming races going but they didn’t click.”

He also was heavily involved in setting up a one-mile racetrack in Lipa called the Metropolitan Equestrian Association in the early ‘80s, but that’s a very long story for another day.

George Y. Stribling is a respected mentor to generations of jockeys and students, including myself, who passed under his tutelage or influence. The world of Philippine racing owes him a debt it does not realize or acknowledge – nor can ever repay. ***

SIDEBAR:

GYS on GYS

  • “I’m a gypsy – I wanna go where I wanna go.”
  • “I’m a born-again Filipino. I have planted my roots here; I will die here in the Philippines.”
  • “I want my ashes scattered over the centerfield at Santa Ana Park, because I’ve made this my home base. The Academy was started here.”
  • “As far as horse racing is concerned, I’m the most knowledgeable in the Philippines; and I’ve done as much as anybody to help the racing and breeding industries.”

GYS on the Philippines

  • “Life here is so much less stressful; the credo here is ‘bahala na’. It’s all unpredictability, a ‘maybe land’. The important thing is that this country is a much less stressful place than other places.”
  • “The Filipinos have quaint habits such as unpunctuality- and hospitality. A child with one pandesal or a handful of rice will offer to share it with you.”
  • “I have been in the Philippines one-third of my life – and they have been the most enjoyable years of my life.”

George Y. Stribling thanks…

Putch Puyat, Amado Bagatsing, Ramon P. Ereneta, Dan Valmonte, Paul Manesse, Rudy Prado, Don Augusto Santos and family, Peping Santos, Ochie Santos, Romy Santos, Tito de Jesus, Coco and Val Cayco, Tonet Lagdameo, Butch Mamon and family, Dr. Tony Alcasid, Sandy Javier, Hermie Esguerra, Benhur Abalos, Nonoy Niles and so many others…

Related stories:

HD: Es Twenty Six Wins Richest Race in 2007

 HORSEMAN’S DIGEST March-April 2008, by Jenny Alcasid 

Es Twenty Six Wins Richest Race in 2007

WHO would have thought it back then, when she was a newborn filly bereft of her mother and her survival uncertain, that she would one day be a champion?

Es Twenty Six, the orphan foal who was raised on infant’s formula, has grown up to be one of the most bankable fillies in the land after winning last season’s richest race – the Philippine Racing Commission (Philracom) Grand Presidential Derby.

Set last December 23 at the Manila Jockey Club’s (MJC) San Lazaro Leisure Park (SLLP), the Derby had a gargantuan total prize pot of P6 million pesos, which drew eleven highly-bred runners to compete over 2,000 meters.

When the gates sprung open, the massive gray form of sprinter Macedonian took the lead, racing 3-1/2 lengths ahead of EJ’s Magic, while in third was Es Twenty Six, ridden by Jesse B. Guce. As they passed the MJC Turf Club for the first time, Es Twenty Six edged up to take second as Pearl Buck crept up to third. Legendary and Treasured Ack rolled along behind them.

In the backstretch, Macedonian began to lose steam, allowing Es Twenty Six to race point. Treasured Ack managed to position herself in second, with Golden Sutter in third. A mere length separated the first three combatants, but at the far turn, Es Twenty Six had stretched her lead by half-a-length more, as Treasured Ack struggled to maintain her place behind the frontrunner even as Henry D’Eighth began moving up to take third. Legendary, seeking to be in contention, was in fourth.

As the field chased each other around the last curve, Es Twenty Six, the outstanding favorite, put 3-1/2 lengths between herself and Legendary, as Henry D’Eighth stayed in third and Treasured Ack dropped back to fourth. Clockers timed the race at 2:07 (24′-23-27-25-27′).

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Jockey Jesse B. Guce and Es Twenty Six after winning the Philracom Grand Presidential Derby last 23 Dec 2007 at San Lazaro Leisure Park.

At the wire, it was Es Twenty Six who took home the hefty first prize purse of P3.6 million, making owner Nery Sunga, trainer Dave de la Cruz, and jockey Jesse B. Guce’s Christmas very special indeed.

Second placer Legendary’s connections went home smiling with P1.350 million, more than most first-place prizes for other stakes races. Henry D’Eighth laughed all the way to the bank with third prize of P750,000, while Treasured Ack was content with the generous P300,00 for fourth.

Also-rans were (in order) coupled entries Golden Sutter and Defiant, Pound for Pound, Pearl Buck, EJ’s Magic, Macedonian, and Storm Signal.

This windfall boosted Es Twenty Six’s earnings for 2007 to P7.17 million, with an enviable record of 5-2-0-0 out of only nine season starts. That’s more than P1.5 million ahead of champion juvenile Indelible Ink, second in the rankings with P5.65 million in income last season for twelve starts (eleven wins and a third place). For Es Twenty Six, it was less work, more pay.

Sired by the prolific and sturdy Principality out of Play By Ear, Es Twenty Six has an impressive resume. Winner of the 3rd leg of the 2007 Triple Crown, she also won the MARHO Breeders’ Cup 3YO Fillies race and came in a strong second to Treasured Ack in the Philracom Lakambini Stakes.

In light of her accomplishments and record, the Philippine Sportswriters’ Association (PSA) gave Es Twenty Six Horse of the Year honors at its awards night held February 16 at the the SM Mall of Asia.

Consequently, she is poised to capture more victories as she enters the 2008 season as a more mature and experienced four-year-old. ***

Related stories:

HD: 2008 Philracom Chairman’s Cup

HORSEMAN’S DIGEST March-April 2008, by Jenny Ortuoste 

 Philracom CHAIRMAN’S CUP

24 February 2008, San Lazaro Leisure Park

Don Enrico Erases Indelible Ink

It was a race that had the entire racing community abuzz with excitement and speculation – the 2008 Philippine Racing Commission (Philracom) Chairman’s Cup. For it pitted the almost unbeatable chestnut filly Indelible Ink, the most accomplished juvenile of 2007, against the humble but talented Don Enrico, who was frequently a runner-up to the precocious filly in most of their matches.

The two three-year-olds grew up together on the same ranch in Batangas – Herma Farms and Stud. The “rising sun and waves” brands on their right shoulders were testament to that. Perhaps they shared the same paddock, and galloped on the grass together, the bright sun glinting off their hides, the wind lifting their manes.

But there the commonalities ended. Indelible Ink, being island-born, boasted an imported pedigree, being by Best Of Luck out of Seaquin. Don Enrico, on the other hand, was Filipino through and through, a spawn of mighty champion Wind Blown out of stakes runner Kayumanggi. Later on, Don Enrico was acquired by Lee Uy Wi, while Herma Farms owner Herminio S. Esguerra kept Indelible Ink.

The differences kept piling up. Indelible Ink was valedictorian of her juvenile class, with earnings of P5.65 million in 2007. Out of twelve starts, she won eleven and had one third place finish.

Don Enrico, on the other hand, was a very smart student but didn’t get all the answers right. Out of eight runs, he won six and placed second twice to bag P2.57 million.

Indelible Ink entered 2008 hoping to dominate this season as well. She was sent off in the Chairman’s Cup as outstanding favorite. Formerly coached by Ruben Clor, she was recently placed under Nestor Manalang’s tutelage.

But Don Enrico, trained by Arturo C. Sordan, had matured in skills and physical condition since their last encounter and proved himself to be Indelible Ink’s worst nightmare, handing the almost unerasable filly her second career defeat.

The 1500-meter race, sponsored by Philracom, was in honor of former chairman and now Philippine Ambassador to Mexico Antonio M. Lagdameo, who made many significant contributions to Philracom and the industry during his term in office.

Nine well-bred three-year olds had signed up for the fight: colts Don Enrico, Bohemian Dave, Shining Fame, Unopposed, and Imperial Ballet all carried 54 kg., while fillies Indelible Ink, her coupled entry Anonymous, Security Queen, and Diamond Duchess carried 52 kg.

When the gates flew back, sprinter Security Queen jumped for the lead. One-and-a-quarter lengths behind was Don Enrico, while Indelible Ink was in third three lengths back. Imperial Ballet, Shining Fame, Anonymous, Unopposed, and Bohemian Dave ran right behind them, while Diamond Duchess trailed the field.

At the 5/8 mark, Security Queen still had a 2-1/2 length lead over Don Enrico, while Indelible Ink had  inched up to a length behind the colt in third. Imperial Ballet struggled to keep fourth position. As the horses whipped round the curve into the backstretch, the frontrunner started to fade; Don Enrico’s young jockey John Alvin A. Guce saw his chance to take point while Indelible Ink’s rider Jeffril T. Zarate hugged the rail in second, Imperial Ballet still in third.

The three took the far turn almost as one, in a move so fluid it looked almost practiced. Indelible Ink crept closer to half-a-length behind Don Enrico, still in front. Imperial Ballet lagged to two behind.

Down the stretch Don Enrico and Indelible Ink pulled away from the pack and made it a grudge match between them. Jockeys Guce and Zarate gritted their teeth as they scrubbed the reins and plied their whips, each refusing to give up.

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Jockey Jeffril Zarate on Indelible Ink (left) pushes his mount to the limit in a vain effort to catch the pacesetting Don Enrico, guided by John Alvin Guce.

Fifty meters from the wire, Indelible Ink kicked in with extra energy on the outside but couldn’t weaken Don Enrico’s tenacity, who stubbornly held on to win by a long nose in one of the most hotly-contested fights that racetrack has ever witnessed.

Team Don Enrico, which had the support of many in the racing community, exploded into noisy rejoicing when their colt crossed the wire first with a time of 1:32, clocking splits of 17′-24-24-26′.

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Guce seems stunned by their victory, while the grooms bask in reflected glory. Don Enrico endears with a lock of his mane tumbling over his glossy forehead.

From the total P2 million in prize money Philracom allotted for the top four finishers, Don Enrico took home P1.2 million. Indelible Ink settled for P450,000, while Imperial Ballet earned P250,00 for third. Fourth placer Anonymous bagged P100,000. As breeder of the winning horse, Herma Farms was awarded P70,000 as part of the Philracom’s incentive program for the local thoroughbred breeding industry.   ***

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HD: Calling the Shots: Ricardo de Zuñiga Profile

HORSEMAN’S DIGEST March-April 2008, by Jenny Alcasid

Calling the Shots

Ricardo de Zuñiga on the past, present, and future of race calling

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Ricardo de Zuñiga calling a race at Santa Ana Park. (18 Nov 2007, Santa Ana Park. Photo by Jun Pinzon)

His sonorous voice with a faintly American accent is familiar to all who have been watching races for the past several decades. Acknowledged as the “Dean of Racecallers”, Ricardo “Carding” de Zuñiga (66), has seen years wax and wane in the sport that is closest to his heart.

Carding’s father was Oscar de Zuñiga, a racing writer who had an influential newspaper column in the 1950s and did much public relations work for the industry.

Forty years ago, the Manila Jockey Club (MJC) was still based at the San Lazaro Hippodrome in Tayuman, Manila. At the time, the racecaller there was Manolo Marvive. He was to migrate to the United States in 1963, and needed someone to take over his duties. He fastened his eye on the 22-year-old Carding.

Isang araw, hinanap ako ni Manolo,” says Carding. “He found me at four in the morning somewhere in Avenida. He told me I would be announcing the races. Just like that. Wala pa kasi silang ibang nakukuha.” Soon after his talk with Manolo, the then-manager of MJC Francisco Beech Jr. also invited him to be a part of the team. Carding’s start in racing was that simple.

The first time he ever called a race, he was set up by several people in a position where he could not back out. “It was in the early ‘60s,” he says. “I was at San Lazaro in the announcer’s booth with Tony Trinidad and Manolo Marvive. Kasama namin sina horseowner Leroy Salvador, and my mom. Then one by one, they got up and left. The race started. I was all alone. Leroy came back and said I had to call, as neither Tony nor Manolo had returned. So I announced one race.  Chila won that one, ridden by jockey Torno.” Carding recalls being very nervous at his debut. “Bandera lang si Chila throughout the race, kaya siya lang ang tinawag ko. Wala na akong ibang kabayong tinawag kundi siya.”

It was difficult at first, but as he settled into the job, Carding became more comfortable with it. “Noong unang dalawang buwan,” he says, “mahirap, kasi pag nagkakamali ka, binu-boo ka ng tao.” What made it even harder was that he was calling the races alone. “Walang ibang announcer sa MJC noon, ako lang. Sa Santa Ana Park naman, si Tony Trinidad lang ang announcer.”

In 1963, when Carding started, MJC had races only on Saturday and Sunday.  Races commenced at around nine in the morning and lasted until seven at night. There used to be twenty races per day, then this was reduced to eighteen later on. 

In 1968, Carding got a chance to call races for a year at Santa Ana Park, when its former owner, Aurelio P. Reyes, was still alive. “I was one year with PRC, in the ‘60s,” Carding recalls. “(Horseowner Armando) Mandy and Tonichi Trinidad also called at PRC, while their brother Tony was at MJC. I returned to PRC in 1997 when Rey Bersalona and other racecallers there went on strike. Later, Ernie Enriquez and Ira Herrera joined me on the team.”

The racehorses back then had nice names, Carding says. “Naroon sina Balalaika, Wichita Lineman which belonged to (Aristeo) Putch Puyat, Jonas Cord. Yung Brown Carpet, mayroon na noong araw. Carpetbagger, Iron Man, Partnership, Taga-Ilog, and Arampoy ridden by jockey Leonardo.”

Carding’s favorite horses included “Iranza, a native horse – maliit pero magaling. Kahit sino ang sumakay, nananalo – si jockey Elias, jockey Artacho, jockey Fortunato, jockey Baby. It was owned by Mr. Alva.”  He also cites the Yulo family’s Now Giddyup and Gypsy Grey. Other horses were Bringhomedbacon; Gray Lord; Distinctive, owned by film director Leroy Salvador; Paris Match and Wichita Lineman of Putch Puyat; Blue Bahadur; and Ragtime Rhythm ridden regularly by jockey Camba.

But his all-time favorite horse is Iron Man, owned by Baby Ismael.  He also liked Red Fantasy of Mr. Yujuico, as well as Cavite Starlet.  Another good runner was “Mr. Comedy, owned by Johnny Veloso. Magandang kabayo na lumaki hanggang hindi na siya kasya sa aparato; lahing mestisong mola.” It’s hard to imagine a horse growing so large that it can barely fit into the starting gate, but apparently the ironically-named Mr. Comedy was such a one.

Ang mga sikat na horseowners naman,” Carding continues, “bukod kay Putch Puyat, ay sina Placido Mapa, Don Antonio Floirendo, Johnny Veloso, Ponching (Alfonso) Lacson, Doding Lacson, William Liao, Danding and Peping Cojuangco, Baby Ismael, and CJ Yulo and Sons.” Of those he mentioned, only Puyat and Floirendo are still active in the local scene.

Racing back then, he recalls, was quite different from now in many aspects, such as prize money. “Mas malaki ang premyo ngayon kesa nung araw. Ang sales, ang isang DD (daily double) tumatakbo ng P100,000, hanggang lumaki na ngayon. Kasi noon, manual lang ang kwenta ng benta, hanggang nagkaroon na ng machines.”

Racing was also more nationalistic. “During the time of Manila Mayor Villegas,” he says, “kapag Araw ng Maynila, kailangan Tagalog ang pag-tawag, pati tugtog sa radyo.”  This was tried recently at MJC’s new San Lazaro Leisure Park in Carmona, Cavite, but the racecallers of today lack confidence in their ability to call in their native language, preferring to stick to the tired, worn, and often ungrammatical clichés they spout automatically at each race.

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Familiar voices: Racecallers Peter Morrison, Romy Cheng, Ira Herrera, and Ricardo de Zuñiga (18 Nov 2007, Santa Ana Park. Photo by Jun Pinzon)

During the ‘70s, Carding says, there used to be match races – one-on-one fights – Confetti vs. Muscles, Top Soldier vs. High Pocket. “Pero walang tayaan,” he clarifies, “side betting lang.”

Mas magagaling ang kabayo ngayon kaysa noong araw,” Carding asserts. “Noon, may tumatakbo pang nativo, hindi de-lahi. Ngayon, puro thoroughbreds ang nasa pista. At napakabilis na ng mga tiyempo nila kumpara noong araw. Noong araw, ang prueba sa milya, pag nag-1:56, magaling na yun. Sa 1500 meters, pag nag 1:47, magaling na. Sa bagay, maliit lang ang kabayo noon.”

He also notices that the style of riding has changed. “Ang style ng pananakay noon, iba. Ang tawag doon ay “sakay costable”. Ang estribo mahaba, halos sumayad na sa lupa. Ngayon, ang iksi ng estribo. Tumulin din ang kabayo dahil scientific na ang pananakay.”

Asked to compare racecalling then and now, Carding shrugs. “Walang pagkakaiba sa tawag through the years.” What, then, makes a good racecaller? “Ang pinakaimportante para maging isang magaling na race caller ay dapat gusto mo ang karera ng kabayo. Kailangan mahal mo ito. Dapat pag-aralan din ang diviza, kulay ng kabayo, pananakay ng hinete, at parts of the racetrack.”

Carding insists that a good racecaller must also know proper grammar and usage. “Di puede kung kung anu-ano ang sasabihin, dapat angkop.” He advocates a simple and straightforward style. “Pag trying hard ka at nag-a-adlib, nagkakamali. Dapat at ease lang ang tawag – kung ano lang ang nangyayari, na maiintindihan agad ng tao. Di kailangan na nagsisisigaw ka diyan. Kailangan simple lang ang pagtawag.”

Simple and direct. That’s Carding, in racecalling and in life . Embodying the past and present, he looks forward to the future of racecalling and racing.   ***

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Horseman’s Digest #6 Preview: “No Hooves, No Horse!”

  This article will appear in the March 2008 issue of Horseman’s Digest.

by Jenny Ortuoste 

“No Hooves, No Horse!”

A young farrier opens a window onto an overlooked world

Farrier, n. One who shoes horses. (American Heritage Dictionary)

Well-bred horses prance by, glossy hides of chestnut, brown, or gray glinting in the sunlight; on their backs, jockeys gleam like peacocks in many-colored silks. As the horses gallop to the wire, the crowd cheers. A horse race is a multitude of inextricably linked sights, sounds, and sensations, a stimulus that overwhelms the viewer yet leaves him eager for more.

But what lies behind the vibrant pageantry of racing? Few people taste the sweat, dirt, and mud that lie behind the show, or realize the sheer hard work required to stage the spectacle. Few know the people who make it all happen.

Meet Ronald “Tonat” C. Tanagon, 29. He is one of those who work behind the scenes, yet whose absence would definitely be felt. Tonat, fifth child of trainer Elito “Boy” Tanagon, is a farrier, and according to many, perhaps the best the country possesses today.

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 A farrier (magbabakal) is a specialist in equine hoof care. His skills include the trimming and balancing of a horse’s hoof so as to fit shoes to the horse’s foot. A good farrier combines basic blacksmith’s skills (fabricating, adapting, and adjusting metal shoes) with knowledge of veterinary medicine (specifically anatomy and physiology of the lower limb) to properly address the care of the horse’s feet.

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Tonat fabricating an aluminum horseshoe at a farriery competition in Malaysia in 2006.

Routine work consists of hoof trimming and shoeing. It is “important to trim each hoof so that it retains its proper orientation to the ground,” according to Wikipedia. Additional tasks for the farrier include “dealing with injured or diseased hooves and the application of special shoes for racing, training, or ‘cosmetic’ purposes.” For horses with certain diseases or injuries, special remedial procedures may be needed for the hooves, such as trimming in a particular way and then special shoes may need to be constructed and fitted.

The tall, good-looking young man is intense and passionate about his work, which he says he was led to by chance. “Gusto ko sanang mag-vet,” Tonat remembers. “Tapos noong second year high school ako, napasama ako sa mga farrier. Unti-unti nila akong tinuruan. Nagustuhan ko yung trabaho.”

He liked it so much, in fact, that he looked for opportunities to increase his skills and knowledge. “(Veterinarian) Dr. Romy Modomo told me about the first seminar I attended, ‘The Correct Way of Shoeing’, in May 1994,” says Tonat. Presented by the Philippine Equestrian Federation, the seminar featured instructor Glen Croker who was able to impart valuable information to Tonat and other farriers.

Later, Tonat was sent to horseowner and breeder Aristeo G. Puyat’s Paris Match Farm in Batangas where he gained more hands-on experience. As his skills matured, he got other jobs at Puyat’s racing stable and those of horsemen Jose Mari Franco, Bienvenido C. Niles Jr., Eric Tagle, and Ramon Balatbat. An added notch to his hammer was being called to Manila Polo Club to shoe “problem horses”.

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Photoessay: Shoeing 101: Tonat, with a leather apron protecting his jeans, applies a pick to Anahita’s hoof preparatory to removing the old shoe.

On a typical day, Tonat rises at six, takes his children to school (he and his wife Cathryn have four daughters), has breakfast, then, starting at seven or so, shoes horses for different stables until five in the afternoon.

If it’s a “farm day”, he gets up at three in the morning to make the long trip, usually to Batangas.  First, a quick stop by the local market for vegetables and meat, which farm hands cook for their lunch. Tonat says he spends up to P1,000 to make sure that there will be enough for everyone.  Then, at seven, he commences – diagnosing, trimming, shoeing – until he has done all the horses on a farm, from 25 to 50 in a day.

A farrier earns up to P500 per horse, supplying his own nails and the gas used for hot shoeing. He also brings his own kit – anvil, forge, nipper, hammer, rasp, hoof knife, hoof tester, packing, and medications. A box of nails can cost anywhere from P600 to P1,000, depending on the quality, with a minimum of six nails used to attach one horseshoe. The other equipment costs more and is a necessary investment.

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Photoessay: Shoeing 101: Pounding a new shoe into the proper shape.

At first it was a struggle to cope with the demands of the job, but Tonat relates, “Sa dami ng hinawakan kong kabayo, common sense lang pala kung ano ang problema.”

All the experience served him good stead when he entered an international competition in September 2006  - the 6th Asian Regional Farriery Competion – held at the Perak Turf Club Equestrian Center in Malaysia and organized by the Malaysian Equine Council. Tonat placed third in the Open Eagle Eye Class, a good finish for a first-time competitor.

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Tonat receives his medal for third place in Malaysia.

“According to a farrier from New Zealand who was there,” Tonat shares, “na owner ng farriery school, lumabas na mas magaling pa ang Filipino farrier na hands-on na nag-aral kesa doon sa mga nag-school. He invited me to study there.” So why hasn’t he hopped on a plane yet? “The study program is for two years at ayaw akong payagang umalis ng mga kliyento ko dito!

Tonat spent on his plane fare to attend the competition; his purpose was to learn more. “Okay lang na hindi ako nanalo,” he shrugs. “Experience lang ang pinupulot ko diyan. Nagulat pa nga ako nung pumasok ako sa third.”

He says he cannot emphasize enough how much he learnt on that occasion. “Malaking tulong na  nakalabas ako ng bansa. Nag-sharing kami ng ibang farriers about different problems. Nagdi-discuss kami at nagpapalitan ng new ideas.”

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Photoessay: Shoeing 101: Nailing on the new shoe.

Tonat shows pictures of various trimming and shoeing cases, with “before” and “after” shots showing the remedies he’s applied. Although he cannot mention names, he tells of several racehorses whose performances improved once he got their hooves under his care. He speaks learnedly about “laminitis”, “seedy toe”, and “tendon stress”, asserting that “preventive and corrective shoeing” should be given top priority. Travel and seminars have contributed to his knowledge, and this is what he applies daily to the job.

Casting an expert eye over the denizens of local stables and ranches, he declares that many racehorses suffer from hoof problems that, if corrected, could greatly improve and enhance their performance. “Ang payo ko sa horseowners,” he says, “ay pag one month old pa lang ang kabayo, tini-trim na. Umpisa na ng pagko-correct iyon. Sana rin, kung ano ang isa-suggest ng farrier, full support ang horseowner.”

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Photoessay: Shoeing 101: Measuring to make sure the shoe is on right.

He cites the example of a famous stakes winner who recently had a foal. “She was knock-kneed,” he says, “so there was a lot of pressure on her knees every time she raced. Piki talaga. So the farrier is really important because he can provide supportive and corrective measures.” He laughs. “No hooves, no horse!”

It is estimated that there are less than twenty professional racetrack farriers, with around four at the Manila Polo Club. Not all of them are as careful and meticulous as Tonat. “Pinalalakad ko muna ang kabayo,” he says, “bago ko hawakan man lang ang paa. I observe how the horse walks, ang landing, kung toe-in o toe-out. Tapos doon ka palang mag-uumpisa.”

If there are “problem horses”, does he have “problem clients”? Tonat grows animated. “May horseowners kasi, ang gusto nila, bakalan agad ang kabayo nila. Puede rin, pero hindi madalian iyan,” he explains. “Hindi pabilisan ang pagbabakal. Dapat nga,kung twenty minutes ka usually, gawin mong thirty minutes. May observation sa lakad ng kabayo before and after.”

His meticulousness pays off in results. He tells of another racehorse. “Dati, pag takbo niyan, mamimilay, tapos pahinga ng six months. Barrier, takbo, pilay, pahinga. Ganoon palagi. Noong ibinigay sa akin, I decided to put a reverse shoe that would support and relieve stress on the tendon.” The horse went on to win quite a few more races, and is still a track regular. Tonat adds, “Ang racetracks kasi dito sa atin, hindi ganoon kaganda. Kaya pag may good farrier ka, less problems.”

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Photoessay: Shoeing 101: Filing is the final step.

He hopes that the industry would give more respect to farriers and their contributions to the sport. “Hindi ko ikakabit ang bakal ng basta nalang,” he sighs. “Dapat, kung ano ang ikabit ng farrier, huwag nang kwestiyonin. Kagaya nung reverse shoe na ikinabit ko doon sa isa, tinatanong pa ng vet sa racetrack bakit daw iyon.”

For the industry, Tonat, a true-blue batang karera, wishes “na lalo pa itong lumago.” For himself, he wistfully hopes to be able to work abroad and learn more about farriery in different countries. He adds, “Sana kahit isang beses isang taon, may seminar dito. Malaking tulong sa farriers iyon.”

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Photoessay: Shoeing 101: Tonat checking Anahita’s other leg before shoeing the hoof of that one as well.

His long-term goal is to set up a local farriery school of his own, “na kung saan makakapag-bigay kami ng lisensiya. Ito na ang pinaka-dream ko. Kailangan lang ng nasa likod namin to back us up. Pag dumating iyan, kahit hindi na ako makakapagbakal, makakapagturo nalang. Di matatapon ang knowledge.”

Big dreams, big heart, from a young man with a will of steel and a vision for the future. Will Tonat and the other farriers find support, or will their dreams wither for lack of encouragement? With more people like Tonat, the country will certainly in time attain its goal of a world-class racing and breeding industry.   ***

Photoessay pictures by Omie Peñaflor, taken at Santa Ana Park on 14 Feb 2008

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Horseman’s Digest #5 (Dec ’07) Now Available!

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Horseman’s Digest issue #5 (December 2007), is the first anniversary issue and packed full of the latest industry news and photos.

Available at Santa Ana Park and San Lazaro Leisure Park.

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HD#5: Native Land in 35th PCSO Gold Cup!

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35th PCSO Presidential Gold Cup

Ruler of Racing: Native Land

Reigns in Historic Race with Four-Length Win

 

ONCE AGAIN, Native Land proved himself the horse of the moment when he ruled one of the racing calendar’s most prestigious events, the 2,000-meter 35th PCSO (Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office) Presidential Gold Cup held last December 9 at the San Lazaro Leisure Park (SLLP).

 

Fresh from his come-from-behind win in the 12th MARHO Breeders’ Cup Classic just three weeks previously, Native Land was sent off as the favorite in the seven-horse field which included sprinters Batong Silyar and Tellmenolies, as well as stayers Empire King, Mr. Victory, and coupled entries Real Spicy and Sound of Silence.

 

When the gates flew open, Tellmenolies led by two lengths over Batong Silyar while Native Land and Real Spicy settled in third and fourth. Past the grandstand the first time, Tellmenolies hung on in front, while Real Spicy moved up rather early to grab second position a length behind, as Batong Silyar dropped to third. Native Land was a length further behind in fourth.

 

At the backstretch, Tellmenolies gave up the lead to Real Spicy, even as Native Land started moving up under the guidance of jockey Jesse B. Guce. At the far turn, the two rivals raced neck-and-neck five lengths ahead of Batong Silyar and Mr. Victory, who had suddenly kicked into gear.

 

At the home turn, Native Land found his sweet spot on the track and stepped smartly past Real Spicy, stretching his lead to two as Mr. Victory came hot on his heels. But down the lane, Native Land simply proved the best horse that day as he shot to triumph nearly five lengths in front of the fading Mr. Victory, Real Spicy, and Empire King.

 

After the race, an ecstatic Guce kissed his mount as they entered the saddling paddock. Quarters for the journey were 24’-23’-26-25’-27 for a total time of 2:06.6.

 

Native Land, a six-year-old, is considered late-maturing by many analysts as it is only within the last several months that he has turned in outstanding performances in major races. His owner, Antonio “Tony” V. Tan, was all smiles as he accepted a trophy and facsimile check for P1.5 million from PCSO chairman Sergio Valencia at the awarding ceremony. Guce, trainer Toots Henson, and Alex Mamon representing breeder C&H Enterprises also received trophies. ***

 

Photo: It’s Jesse B. Guce aboard Native Land in the 35th PCSO Presidential Gold Cup! (9 Dec 2007)

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HD#5: Training Native Land

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Relax, Just Do It: Training Native Land

An Interview with Anthony “Toots” A. Henson

Native Land’s impressive victories in December 9’s 35th PCSO Presidential Gold Cup and November 18’s MARHO Breeders’ Cup (MBC) Classic merit a closer look at his trainer, Anthony “Toots” A. Henson.

Toots is 32, and has been training racehorses for the past five years. His uncle and mentor is famed trainer Rey Henson, “who has been like a father to me,” Toots says.

With a fearsome reputation for being temperamental, Native Land did not do well in the early part of his career. He was deemed salbahe, difficult to control, so his handlers had him gelded.

When Toots first came on the scene in April 2006, he immediately noticed the wild streak in his alaga.Mainit sa ensayo si Native Land,” he avers. “Di basta-basta na-eensayo ito. Matigas ang bibig. Paglabas ng pista noon, pag binitawan, tatakbo nalang.” Native Land is also hard to load. “Kailangan dito blindfolded going to the gate,” adds Toots, “at sa loading.

For all his personality quirks, Native Land, according to Toots, “has the heart of a champion. Salbahe pag nakakakita ng pista, pero babait pag naikabit na ang saddle.” Based on his excited reaction every time he sees the track, we can say that Native Land is truly born to race.

A grandson of the famed racehorse and stallion Fair and Square, Native Land (Conquistarose-Fair Native) is now six years old and it is only within the last couple of months that he has racked up such astonishing accomplishments. “Parang late-maturing ito,” is Toots’s assessment of his horse. He feels that Native Land has finally understood what it means to run – and win. “Mas malamig na siya ngayon,” he says. “Natuto na siyang lumaban. Ang style niya noon de remate, then late last year nagpakita na siya ng speed. Nagkaroon na siya ng diskarte sa katawan.”

But what contributed to Native Land’s positive turn-around in performance? “Ilang taon na rin kaming ginugulpi ng kalaban, tulad nila Real Spicy. In races prior to the MARHO Classic, tinalo si Native Land sa datingan nila Real Spicy at ni Empire King, dalawang beses na. Kaya nag-experimento ako ng workout,” Toots declares. Inisip ko na mas gusto niya iyong relaxed siya. Kaya ibinaliktad ko ang usual na ensayo. Nagbibigay ako ng mahaba twice a week before the race na pinaghahandaan namin. Ni-relax ko siya na nagustuhan niya naman.”

His reaction to the two successive wins? “Tuwang-tuwa ako. Ang tagal naming sinubukan na talunin sila. Sa (35th PCSO) Gold Cup, inisip ko na babantayan lang naming ang magagaling. Tapos nanalo kami, four lengths pa. After the race, I couldn’t believe it was true, that we had won the most important race.”

How does he feel as a trainer? “Vindicated,” Toots says without hesitation, “na tama ang aking naging diskarte.” There is also relief that the pressure, for now, has eased. “Nakaraos din sa wakas.” He considers the Gold Cup victory as his “pivotal achievement”.

Finally, Toots Henson’s Christmas wish list: “My personal wish is that I win all the major races. For the industry, na sana mas lalo pang umunlad ang industriya para marami itong matulungan, mula sa sota, helper, hanggang sa lahat ng kabalikat dito sa karera.” ***

 

Photo: Toots Henson with his trophy right after the awarding ceremony for the 35th PCSO Gold Cup. (Photo by Roel Taripe. SLLP Turf Club, 9 Dec 2007)

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HD#5: Living a Legacy

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  HORSEMAN’S PROFILE

Living the Legacy

Butch Mamon carries on the thoroughbred tradition of C & H Enterprises

Mention the phrase “C &H Enterprises” to most racegoers and recall will be immediate. The old-timers will say “Fair and Square”; the younger ones, “Cover Girl” or “West Bound”. C & H is known as a breeder of champions, with a reputation for excellence and achievement in the sport.

Established in the late 1960s, C & H was founded by Capt. Cesar Mamon and his wife Herminia. A valued and trusted employee of the horse-owning Yulo family for forty years, Capt. Mamon, by virtue of his association with the late Don Jose Yulo, caught the horse-loving bug and and happily indulged it. He rode horses, raced them, and bred them.

Capt. Mamon retired in the early ‘70s to a piece of virgin forest in the foothills of Makiling, in Pansol, where he set up a ranch. He raised both thoroughbreds and non-pedigreed horses.

 In 1979, five thoroughbreds were imported from Australia by Alfonso Lacson. Other owners got first dibs on the five; the one they liked least, a broodmare named Fair Sea, went to Capt. Mamon.  At that time Fair Sea was in foal to Fair and Square.

Fair and Square went on to become a champion whose name, to this day, is legend. Trained by Dr. Antonio C. Alcasid, he dominated the racing scene of his day, winning two PCSO Presidential Gold Cup races back-to-back in 1981 and 1982, and countless stakes races. (See related story in this issue)

Fair and Square went on to become a noted stallion. His most famous and accomplished offspring was undefeated racemare Sun Dancer (from an Ochie Santos-owned mare), who won two successive PCSO Gold Cup races, in 1989 and 1990. Fair and Square also sired Fair Start, 1993 PCSO Gold Cup winner, and stakes winners Fair Deal, Fair Lead, and Reckless Lover (bred by Jose “Bebo” Quiros and owned by Andrew Sanchez), among many others.

In 1985, Capt. Mamon passed away. By then, C & H was a respected and admired institution in racing. Among his sons – Mario, Pat, Butch, and Alex – the latter two were the most interested in horses, with Alex being perhaps slightly more so. But no one in the family really wanted to take on the responsibility of taking care of the horses, until, reluctantly, Butch stepped to the fore.

What is it that makes some men relinquish a legacy – and some men carry on no matter what? It is a tug of the heart, a pull of the soul, a fierce determination in the gut to keep a dream alive in the face of challenges. It is this undefinable something that Jose Ramon “Butch” Mamon possesses.

Butch, 49, is tall, quiet, and good-natured – but he is no pushover. Far from it. His strength and force of character is palpable as he tells the story of his involvement in racing.

He insists that he went into the sport only to support his father. “In the late ‘60s,” he says, “when I was in high school at UP (University of the Philippines) Rural, I would accompany him to Santa Ana Park. Our (viewing) box there was close to the track. That was the time of Ilocos King, Sea of Joy. I was just a kibitzer, and had no interest at all in racing, but I’d go out and mingle.”

Butch was in college by the time Fair and Square was making his mark.  ”My interest sparked,” he recalls, “because my dad’s horses were constantly winning. But I just wanted the horses to win so my dad would be happy, not because I wanted to get into it. None of us did.”

He remembers travelling with his father from Pansol to Santa Ana Park to watch the trangko (workout gallops) of his runners. “Those days, wala pa masyadong traffic, the trip was just 30 to 45 minutes on the highway.” Hard to believe now in this age of snarled transport everywhere.

Capt. Mamon graduated BS Agriculture from UP in 1934. He served in World War II as a reserve officer in the Army, thus the title. He suffered on the infamous Bataan Death March. But his military style didn’t rub off on Butch, who attended UP-Diliman, where he played basketball for the UP Maroons from 1979 to 1982, and completed a degree in Landscape Architecture after shifting from the same course as his father’s in UP-Los Banos.

 ”I could have sold out (the horses) after my father died,” Butch says, “but I carried on as a tribute to my father, and to carry on the memory.” At that time many people were asking about Fair and Square’s stud services. Butch had a difficult time getting the paperwork in order as the pedigrees of Fair and Square and many other horses of the period where ordered burned by an official of the National Stud Farm.

 It was under Butch’s wing that Fair and Square continued his career as a successful sire. He became so famous, that Butch says “there even was a Fair and Square Awards, something like the Eclipse Awards (for racing achievement).”

 When Fair and Square died, it was the end of an era. Butch, along with fellow horseowners Sonny Arevalo, Al Gamutero, and Atty. Alex Carandang, acquired another stallion, Ringerman, “on the rebound,” states Butch. “It’s hard to take care of a stallion. I thought he would be a success because suerte kami kay Fair and Square, but not really. Kaya bilib ako sa mga may-ari ng stallions.”

 As Butch got more involved with breeding and racing on his own, he had help from his wife, Dr. Jean Mamon. She started out studying veterinary medicine at UP Los Banos but later finished a Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of the East. “My wife Jean is a big influence,” Butch declares. “Being a rider herself, she taught us a lot about breaking young horses. She also helped a lot with Cover Girl and West Bound, regarding the feeding program, diet of mares, and drip-feeding of foals. She brought TLC into the way we take care of horses.”

In the past years Butch has concentrated more on breeding rather than racing. “I now have around 15 mares,” he says, “many of them former racehorses like Fair Maiden, Fair Lead, Alynative.  I had lots of yearlings in our last crop, most of which I sold. On my farm, I also have a lot of boarders and syndicated runners like Sound Offer, California Lady, and Trieste, who are now broodmares.”

He reckons his most successful line springs from broodmare Gallant Native. “I got her from (trainer) Jojie Panlilio.  (Stakes winners) Fair Native, Alynative, Gallant Quest, Tigra, and Cover Girl are from her but from different sires.”

Butch muses, “You need patience in this business. I have a lot. Like our long-time trainer Dr. (Antonio) Alcasid says, ‘The horse will tell you when he’s ready.’ That’s what he taught me which is true naman. Nowadays, breeding is good. I went through hard times in racing when the prize for first place was just P15,000. When Fair and Square won the Gold Cup the prize was only P300,000 instead of the over P1 million it is today!”

On the racing side of his operations, he still keeps a 12-stall stable at Santa Ana Park, shared with (fellow horseowners) Jing Javier and Alvin Ferrer. After the campaigns of Cover Girl and West Bound (both multiple stakes and Triple Crown leg winners) ended some years back, the presence of C & H in racing has somewhat diminished. “Pero babalik din ako sa racing,” Butch vows. “Maririnig din nila uli ang pangalang C & H.”

Being in the industry for three decades gives Butch a deep wellspring of information and experience to draw on to assess the industry as it is today. “With the trending of the sales on a downswing, there is definitely a problem,” he states. “It’s not moving the way it should be, compared to before, despite the bigger prizes allotted by Philracom for stakes races.”

 Other industry concerns? “Handicapping is in disarray,” Butch says. “On the breeding aspect, there is big potential to ship horses out (to other countries); the only problem is that we don’t have quarantine protocols yet. But kulang din ang population dito for racing, so that’s something to think about.”

Butch also feels, along with many other horseowners, that there are too many racing days in the calendar. “They should reduce the number of racing days to program better races and so that horses can rest. No more double declarations within one raceweek. Horses are not mechanical. Bettors get sawa with too many races. Baka mas lumakas pa ang karera kung bawasan ang araw.”

His Christmas wish for the industry? “I wish for an honest-to-goodness racetrack run by racehorse owners. (It’s difficult with) private individuals or corporations owning tracks because they are not horsepeople.”

In spite of the challenges facing racing and breeding today, does Butch believe there is still hope for it to regain lost ground and reach its full potential? “Ah, oo naman. Kung hindi, wala ako dito.” But the most compelling reason for his continued presence is this: “May legacy kasi, eh. You have to continue.”

The torch was passed on to him, and he is keeping the flame burning, against all odds. It is men like Butch who keep the thoroughbred industry in the Philippines alive. May he be blessed with the strength and courage to carry on. ***

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