THE HOARSE WHISPERER By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 16 September 2009, Wednesday
The Azcarraga Case
After months of contention and controversy, a decision has been reached in the case concerning the age of bay filly Azcarraga, currently running as a 2YO in the elite juvenile ranks.
Azcarraga (Untouchable – As Tears Go By), owned by prominent horseman Herminio Esguerra, was registered as having been foaled in the Philippines at Esguerra’s Herma Farms and Stud ranch in Batangas on 7 January 2007. Its mare was brought into the country from Australia on 29 May 2006 while pregnant, and gave birth a few days shy of 13 months, or 387 days.
With the usual gestation period for thoroughbreds being 11 to 11.5 months, allegations swirled that the horse should have been born in November or December 2006, making it a 3YO under prevailing age rules, and ineligible to run with 2YO as it is doing now.
The Philippine Racing Commission investigated further and looked into four types of evidence: veterinary books and articles on equine gestation periods; inquiry through the Australian Jockey Club to the studmaster of the breeding ranch where the mating was conducted; Herma Farms breeding records; and Stud Book Authority of the Philippines records.
Veterinary materials concur that equine gestations may run from “11 to 12 months, some as long as 14 months.” Other sources suggest that factors such as climate change and air or sea travel may also affect gestation.
The AJC’s Ms. Jodie Mitchell opined that a gestation of “…394 days is quite acceptable in most countries…” and that AJC accepts “…anything up to 400 days without asking for evidence.” The mare’s breeding record shows that her average gestation period is 359 days, or 11 months and 25 days.
Veterinarians from Herma Farms submitted meticulously-kept and detailed records such as the foaling slip of Azcarraga, Stud Book returns of 2007 and 2008, the mare’s breeding record, and stallion records.
The SBAP attested that required documents were submitted by Herma Farms on time. Further, SBAP supplied a list of 15 other mares – owned by other people – that dropped foals in 2005 to 2007 after gestation periods of more than 12 months.
In a decision penned by Philracom chairman lawyer Jose Ferdinand M. Rojas II, the Commission found unanimously that there was “no compelling evidence that Herma Farms altered the foaling date for Azcarraga” or any other records, and that “papers presented were in order”. Further, under the law, “no person shall be deprived of due process of life, liberty, or property… (unless) evidence thereof against such person’s property is proven beyond reasonable doubt.”
While the mare’s 387-day gestation “may be suspect”, “mere allegations without evidence cannot justify the change of status of Azcarraga.” Therefore, the Commission decided that the “status quo of Azcarraga as a 2YO for year 2009 remains.”
Horseowners looked on the decision as a landmark case that would pave the way for inspections of ranches to ensure the veracity of reported foaling dates. The Philracom has recently issued a resolution providing for that, while Esguerra has offered that his ranch be the first on the list for inspection.
With that, Azcarraga will now be allowed to resume her so-far successful career. Having won the first leg of the Philracom Juvenile Fillies championship last August at San Lazaro Leisure Park, she will next be competing in the second leg of the series on Sunday at New Santa Ana Park in Naic, Cavite. ***